Search Results : metro

Jul 052019
 

Last week the DWP advertorials returned to the Metro.

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

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

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

Jun 252019
 


RMT Message of support for our #DumpMetroDWPLies campaign:

“The Metro newspaper is carrying government adverts promoting Universal Credit, the new welfare benefit responsible for driving claimants – including disabled people – even further into poverty and insecurity.

Understandably, disability campaigners are removing this vile propaganda from its distribution points, which include many stations and other transport premises.

As transport workers, our job is to ensure the safe running of the service. It is not our job to prevent the safe removal of newspapers.

Janine Booth, Chair, RMT Disabled Members’ Advisory Committee”

This campaign was initiated by our Sheffield DPAC Group

 Posted by at 22:25
May 302019
 

[From Sheffield DPAC, with thanks]

This is a call out to all members and supporters regarding the DWP universal credit uncovered advertorials that are running in the Metro newspaper currently.

It has been confirmed by guardian journalist Aditya chakrabortty that the wrap-around advert will have cost at least £250,000 of public money. Yes that’s right you’re paying to be lied to by the department of work and pensions.
Mark Serwotka of the PCS Union has condemned the advertorials as government propaganda and we commend him for doing so. we share the National Union of journalists concerns that these advertorials are deliberately misleading and presented to appear as pieces of journalism we maintain that these articles reach advertising standards as they do not bear recognised branding from the department of work and pensions.

The first advertorial was a wrap around advert as well as a double page spread inside the Metro on 22nd May, our friends in the RMT/Unite and TSSA Unions gave us the heads up about the advert had appeared in the newspapers and our activists set to work.
With just a small number of people at widespread locations nationally, we emptied newspaper stands at train stations on buses and on trams in several towns and cities.
The second universal credit and covered advert appeared in the Metro newspaper on Wednesday the 29th of May.
We preempted that it would appear on the Wednesday and several activists went to the local train stations and bus stations as early as 6:30 or 7am and emptied the newspaper stands. 
Some people had to make several trips with their mobility scooters emptying the stands using rucksacks and panniers bags to carry the papers. 
Other people used sack trolleys to remove huge stacks of papers, and some used wheeled suitcases packed full of the metro and taken away while others grabbed armfuls and walked off with them.
We estimate that on the 29th of May our activists removed around 1% of papers from circulation this doesn’t sound a lot but when you look at that it equals in between 10 to 15000 copies it really is impactful; especially to other advertisers who will be losing money as a result.
There is a post on the DPAC Sheffield page that lists the companies who advertised in the Metro newspaper on the 29th of May alerting them that their adverts were seen by thousands less people than who would have if the Metro weren’t running the DWP universal credit adverts.
We are asking people to think twice before advertising in the Metro newspaper whilst they are running the DWP universal credit uncovered advertorials.
These advertorials are going to be running for a further 7-8 weeks in the Metro newspaper.
We are calling on people to join our campaign to dump Metro DWP lies on any day of the week
Yes, it’s important that we get the DWP lies off the shelves… but decreasing the circulation of the Metro newspaper 5 days a week rather than just one will make a bigger impact on as to whether the Metro does anything like this again!
If the Metro was a paid-for paper we would call for a boycott but it’s a free paper so let’s just dent them wherever we can.
Investigations have revealed that other newspapers were allegedly approached to run this advertorial and declined; which says a lot about the Metro!
Whether you remove 10 copies or 100 it all makes a difference.
With just a small number of people taking part in each town and city it soon adds up to big numbers and these numbers will make a difference when we act collectively!
Currently, as the first and second advertorials we run on a Wednesday, we are assuming that the ads will come out each Wednesday…But that doesn’t mean they’ll continue to be released on that schedule.
So we’re calling on our members and supporters keep an eye out on the early morning commute each day and alert as early as possible if you see a universal credit advertorial in the Metro.
Disabled people against cuts has an online network of tens of thousands of activists and supporters we can very quickly let people know and jump into action!
Take pictures of videos of removing the Metro newspaper from the stands and send them to DPAC by email on mail@dpac.uk.net or Twitter using the hashtag
#DumpMetroDWPlies
 Posted by at 16:31
May 142019
 

A memo leaked to us shows that DWP are planning to tell lots and lots of fairytales about how well Universal Credit is working. This is not our experience or the experience of anyone we have contact with. 

On Friday May 31st DWP are launching a misleading advertising campaign with a wrap around on the Metro free paper.  

This is costing quarter of a million pounds of our money meanwhile they have robbed millions from women pensioners, disabled people, women and children all of whom have been pushed deeper and deeper into poverty, and despair. Many have been forced to resort to prostitution and crime in order to survive. 

DWP must be stopped from using the media to spread their lies so we’re calling on all of those affected and those who care about the truth to do what we’ve done with the Mail and Sun before and go to your nearest train and tube station or any other locations where the Metro is given out free and remove or otherwise prevent as many as possible to be read. 

This is nothing short of a propaganda war which we must win. Please ask friends and family to help with this task and share this request on social media. 

We are preparing a dossier to complain to the advertising standards authority but let’s make sure the Metro never want another DWP advert again.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/14/universal-credit-department-work-pensions-pr

 

 Posted by at 21:47
Sep 052019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

Rail regulator backs down on access to replacement buses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:04
Aug 222019
 

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

Council’s planned care charge rises ‘could prove fatal’

Leading disabled campaigners have warned that a council’s proposals to increase care charges will force them and others to quit their jobs and stop their volunteering work, and will push many others into poverty.

One influential campaigner warned that she could be forced to reduce her care from 63 hours a week to just seven, and might have to consider residential care, if Greenwich council goes ahead with its plans.

Another said the Labour-run council’s changes could force her to quit her job with a disabled people’s organisation in another London borough.

A third disabled resident said she feared she would have to quit her work as a self-employed consultant, and her campaigning work with organisations such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), if the council presses ahead with its plans.

Another Greenwich resident, Fred Williams, who receives 38 hours of support a week, said he would refuse to pay any new charges imposed on him by the council.

He has been refusing to pay all care charges requested by Greenwich council since 1995, when new laws on charging were introduced by the Conservative government.

Williams plans to take legal action against the council if it continues with its proposals.

He said they could even prove fatal for some disabled people in the borough, many of whom have already experienced cuts through the introduction of universal credit and personal independence payment.

He said: “For many, it will mean a loss of care, they won’t be able to afford the extra charges, it will end up being a choice of food, heating or paying for the little care they can afford. In time, this could be fatal. 

Is Greenwich council going to take full responsibility for these deaths?”

Among 11 proposals, Greenwich council wants to increase the hourly rate it charges for home care; force recipients of the higher rate of disability benefits to contribute more towards their care; remove subsidies for delivery of frozen ready meals; remove its cap on charges for home care; and increase charges for service-users with savings of between £14,250 and £23,250.

The council’s own equality impact assessment of its proposals warned there was a “risk of impacting on income of most severely disabled people”.

Another disabled resident, Kate Brown, in an open letter to the council that was supported by the grassroots group WinVisible, has said that her charges would increase from £65 per week to £105 per week or more.

She said in the letter: “This sounds overdramatic, but if I had to cut down to pay the extra, it would be on food, or the clothes and bedding that I need as I am double incontinent.”

She has already seen her support package cut from 168 hours to 27.5 hours a week, following the closure of the Independent Living Fund in 2015.

Greenwich is just the latest local authority to announce plans to increase charges or restrict access to care and support, as the government continues to delay publication of its long-awaited green paper on how to deal with the adult social care funding crisis.

Anne Novis, who chairs Inclusion London, and received a commendation from the Metropolitan police only last month for her work as an independent advisor to the force, said she was likely to have to quit both those voluntary positions if the council’s proposals went ahead.

Because she was left some money when her mother died, Novis will be hit hard by the reduction on the cap in charges. She is set to lose support worth £3,500 a month.

She said: “If that is removed as proposed, I will have to pay for all my care, an impossible request if I am to live.”

Within a year, she fears she will be forced to claim housing benefit and will probably be hit by the bedroom tax, because of the lack of smaller accessible properties in the borough.

She said: “If they remove the cap, I will be faced with paying all of it or the cheaper option of going into a care home.”

Another option is to cut her care from 63 hours a week to one hour a day, which would still cost more than £300 a month.

She said: “I will not be able to do anything. My life just comes to existing, not living, not contributing to all the things I do. That’s what people need to hear about.”

She added: “I fear I will end up in hospital, as I will not be able to afford the care I have been assessed as needing.”

Novis said the council’s plans would “push all service users into more poverty”, because they are already struggling with the benefits freeze and increased living costs.

Jenny Hurst, another well-known disabled campaigner and Greenwich resident, told Disability News Service that she fears the care charge changes could force her to quit her job – supporting disabled people being assessed for care in another borough – and rely instead on benefits.

She said the Greenwich consultation document says people will only be charged what they can afford.

But she said: “I support people on a regular basis with little or no savings, some with not a penny to their name, who are in debt and struggling to afford household bills and food on a week by week basis who are told [by their council] that they can afford over £100 a week towards their care.

Calculations are done according to a standard formula, using figures from the government, with minor tweaks… not considering the person’s actual living costs.

They have all been told that, according to the government’s calculations, they can afford to pay towards their care. The reality for them is that they can’t.

Greenwich’s consultation document shows that Greenwich will also be following the same government figures in the calculations.”

She added: “People should not have to pay for support to do the most basic tasks that non-disabled people take for granted.”

Eleanor Lisney, another high-profile disabled Greenwich resident, as a DPAC co-founder, said: “My care package is just enough to ensure I have my personal needs taken care of so that I am presentable for the work I do.

I get my meals cooked and help to maintain hygiene at home, shopping and some leisure activities and campaigning work.

I don’t think I can afford that if I have to pay for it myself.

I think, ultimately, I fear that we will be stripped of dignity and choice if we are not afforded the basic daily functions that a non-disabled person takes for granted.

It is disingenuous to say it is only imposed on people who can afford it, because many of us are walking the line with poverty and the safety net is not there for us.”

A new DPAC group in Greenwich, which Lisney, Hurst and Novis have set up, aims to challenge the proposed increased charges.

Their fight against Greenwich council’s proposals is supported by Inclusion London.

Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice for Inclusion London, said: “Social care charges are a tax on disability.

More and more research is illustrating how care charges are pushing disabled people into deeper poverty and forcing some to make unenviable choices between heating and eating.

Hammersmith and Fulham council have scrapped social care charges and Inclusion London hopes that Greenwich council will learn lessons from their colleagues and reduce the burden on disabled people who have already been hit disproportionately hard by a decade of austerity.

We will continue supporting disabled people in Greenwich to campaign against the proposed changes and we will explore all possible means to prevent Greenwich council from implementing their proposals.

We will make sure disabled people in Greenwich understand their rights, have access to advice, including legal advice, and can challenge councils’ decisions when necessary.”

Greenwich council refused to say if it was concerned that its proposals might push some disabled people into poverty, or if they might force some service-users to give up their voluntary or paid work.

It also refused to say if it believed that the changes would force some disabled people into residential care.

But Cllr Averil Lekau, cabinet member for adult social care and health, said in a statement: “Hundreds of people have had their say on a range of proposals that we are consulting on, and I have personally met and listened to residents who may be affected.

The consultation has now closed, and all the responses will be collated, analysed and used to inform our decision.

Since 2010, our funding has reduced by a staggering £1,400 per household, totalling some £125 million, largely as a result of funding that the government has taken away from us.

At the same time, the population has grown, and more people have had to use our adult social care services.

Many other councils have already increased the amount they are charging – something we have resisted for years.

Unfortunately, we are at the end of the line and have to make some incredibly difficult decisions.

However, whatever changes are brought in, we will make sure that there will be rigorous assessments so that the people who are least able to afford any increases are protected.

I note that the new prime minister has pledged to fix the social care crisis – I very much hope that this means putting an end to austerity and giving councils the money they need to provide crucial services for their most vulnerable residents.”

22 August 2019

 

 

Family fight for ‘misdiagnosed’ autistic man who fears being left to die in hospital

An autistic man who has been kept in locked mental health units for four years has told his mother he fears he will never be released.

The user-led campaign group Autistic UK is supporting the family of Ikram Khan, now 23, who have been fighting since 2015 for the release of their son.

They say he has been wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia, and has been kept under heavy medication for four years, and kept locked up in a series of mental health units at a cost of £13,000 a week.

It is the latest example of a young autistic person forced into a hospital unit, and kept under heavy medication, rather than being supported to live independently in the community.

At one stage, Ikram was so heavily dosed on anti-psychotics that he lost the ability to recognise his family.

Ikram, who has two brothers and three sisters, has told his mother, Monaka Bibi, from Birmingham: “It looks like I am going to die here.”

He told her: “Mum, they took me when I was 19. I never got the chance to work. I can’t do that if I’m locked up.”

Another patient in Priory Woodland View, the private mental health unit near Coventry where he has been kept under section for more than a year, has told Ikram he has been there for 20 years. Now he fears the same fate.

Ikram’s primary school told his family they thought he had Asperger’s syndrome, while his secondary school later attempted to have him assessed for Asperger’s, but he refused to attend the assessment.

He was first sectioned four years ago, at the age of just 19, when – his mother says – he was told he was being taken to an NHS mental health centre for some “activities”.

She was then phoned later that day and told he had been sectioned.

She was given three different explanations for her son being sectioned, she said.

She says he has never been violent, and the only incident of any aggression happened when he was 19, after he was placed on powerful anti-psychotic medication by local mental health services, and even then he had only spat at a fellow college student.

His mother said that after the medication was reduced “he really regretted his actions” and “reverted to his mild-mannered self”.

One doctor specialising in patients with learning difficulties has previously told the family that Ikram is autistic and does not have schizophrenia, but the family say that that diagnosis has been ignored by Forward Thinking Birmingham (FTB), the local NHS provider of community mental health services for children and young people.

FTB took over provision of these services in 2016, after Ikram was first sectioned.

Although in the last couple of months Priory Woodland View has allowed him weekly home visits, his family say he still spends half of the week detained under section in a locked ward in the hospital.

He has to take five separate drugs to counteract the side-effects of the powerful anti-psychotic medication Clozapine he is forced to take.

His mother said: “They just want to keep him locked up. They have no reason.

They are paying £13,000 a week to lock him up. It will cost them a lot more to keep him in hospital than to keep him in the community.

The mental health system is a minefield and finding one’s way around seems impossible.”

As well as securing his discharge, the family want a “proper second opinion” on his diagnosis of schizophrenia, with full disclosure of his previous hospital records.

They say the private hospitals and mental health professionals now responsible for him being detained have yet to see these records, and that he has never had any hallucinations.

They believe the records would show that the symptoms taken by his doctors as signs of psychosis were in fact the result of an infection and his autism.

And they say that FTB has told them it cannot find suitable accommodation for him in the community, and that the family home is too noisy.

Ikram’s mother said her son’s ordeal had “devastated” her life – affecting her health, and forcing her to give up her volunteering work, quit her job and put her studies on hold.

The family is just one of several being supported by Autistic UK, a grassroots group run by autistic people, which is seeking legal help for them.

Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, said: “Ikram has been robbed of four years of his life. Why? Because of medical ignorance and mismanagement.

He has missed four years when he could have been getting a job, making new friends, maybe even going to uni. He will never get those years back.

Too many autistic and learning disabled people are experiencing this fate – rotting away in assessment and treatment units or mental hospital wards when they should be out in the community experiencing what life has to offer. 

We at Autistic UK want to know why, when the NHS is so strapped for money, they are spending tens of thousands of pounds a week per person to lock these people up when it would be so much cheaper, and so much more humane, to give them support in the community.

Why are so many lives being irreparably damaged so needlessly?” 

She added: “We are asking for the NHS, social services, and the governments both local and national to cooperate to resolve the horrific abuse that is happening all over the country.

This is a human rights crisis. Please act before more lives are ruined.”

In May, an interim Care Quality Commission report found more than 70 disabled children and adults – all of them autistic or with learning difficulties – in long-term segregation in facilities across England.

The government has agreed to have all their cases reviewed, although it is not clear whether Ikram’s is one of them.

A spokesperson for Priory Woodland View said: “We cannot comment in any detail about individual cases.

However, we take all complaints seriously and ensure they are thoroughly investigated.

We are exploring the family’s concerns in detail and are seeking to offer as much support as we can, whilst discussions regarding his placement are ongoing.”

An FTB spokesperson said FTB would not be responsible for discharging Ikram, and that “due to patient confidentiality we’re not able to share specific details of cases”.

He refused to clarify the role that FTB played in such cases.

But he said in a statement: “We’re unable to comment on individual cases due to confidentiality.

When working with partner organisations we do everything possible to ensure the care patients receive is the most appropriate for their needs.”

22 August 2019

 

 

Failure to fund access costs of general election candidates is ‘denial of democracy’

Disabled politicians preparing to contest the general election likely to be called within months will be hit hard by the government’s refusal to fund their disability-related campaign spending, a Deaf parliamentary candidate has warned.

Kerena Marchant, who uses British Sign Language (BSL) and is a disability rights campaigner and a TV producer and journalist, will be contesting the Basingstoke seat at the next general election.

But she fears she will not be competing on a level playing-field with other candidates.

With most observers expecting a general election to be called by new prime minister Boris Johnson within months, Marchant is concerned that the government has made no attempt to provide support for those disabled candidates contesting seats.

This failure is likely to hit efforts to increase the number of disabled MPs, with only about one per cent of MPs currently self-identifying as disabled people.

Marchant was selected by Labour this year to fight the Basingstoke seat currently occupied by Conservative MP Maria Miller, a former minister for disabled people and currently chair of the Commons women and equalities committee.

Marchant has pointed out that a new temporary fund to support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office – the EnAble Fund for Elected Office, which went live in January – is not open to parliamentary candidates.

Only disabled people fighting local government and Police and Crime Commissioner elections can apply for EnAble grants.

Marchant said the lack of funding for parliamentary elections “has completely cut disabled people out of the political arena” at a time when there is “growing talk and likelihood of a general election”.

She said she felt as though she was competing in “a race up a steep mountain and the other candidates are already over halfway up and I haven’t started.

I not only have to fundraise for the campaign but also include some of my interpreting costs.”

She said that Miller’s time as minister for disabled people between 2010 and 2012, in a coalition government that “hit disabled people hard with austerity”, just “makes me want to run faster”. 

She added: “We are living in a time when disabled people have taken the brunt of the government’s austerity cuts and many are living in poverty, many are unable to fulfil their potential, their futures stolen.

Tragically, thousands have lost their lives because of the cuts and the Department for Work and Pensions is a hostile environment.

This lack of financial support for disabled candidates puts disabled people in a separate political class and denies them democracy and peer representation in parliament at the time they most need it to fight back.”

Marchant was only able to contest the selection process for the seat because her constituency Labour party provided some funding for interpreters.

Now she has been selected, the local party is also making phone calls on her behalf, providing party volunteers to accompany her on visits and carry out note-taking duties, and paying for some interpreters at meetings.

Meanwhile, she has applied for a bursary from the party to cover her disability-related expenses.

The EnAble fund is a temporary, partial replacement for the Access to Elected Office Fund (AEOF), which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years and had provided funding for expenses such as BSL interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares.

In contrast to EnAble, AEOF was open to disabled people seeking election to parliament.

Marchant said: “The government have deliberately kicked [AEOF] into the long grass and left it there, hoping that it is hidden and forgotten.

Throughout this period when MPs have written letters and asked questions about it, they have used delays, diversions and excuses.

There must be other disabled candidates hit by this or not standing. The sad thing is that if there is a snap election this autumn it could be the last chance to stand until 2024.”

Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “Disabled people are seriously under-represented in the House of Commons.

Disabled people need access to funding for disability-related expenses for general elections too.

It would be a breach of article 29 of the UN disability convention [on participation in political and public life] if funds were not available for general elections.

Failure to extend the fund to cover general elections will damage efforts to increase the numbers of disabled MPs.”

A long-delayed evaluation report into AEOF, when it was finally published last June, found that it had been “very expensive” to run.

The average cost of processing each grant by the company that secured the contract was £52 for every £100 spent on grants in the first two years, and £13 for every £100 spent on grants in the final year.

It also found that only 14 per cent of disabled people applying for grants were Conservatives while 39 per cent were Labour candidates.

AEOF’s partial replacement, EnAble, is administered by the disabled people’s organisation Disability Rights UK (DR UK) on behalf of the Local Government Association (LGA), but with central government funding.

The Scottish government has set up its own fund for disabled candidates for local and Scottish parliament elections, delivered by Inclusion Scotland.

DR UK said it was in discussions with the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and LGA about extending the fund to cover a snap general election.

Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “We are aware that the current fund does not cover general elections, and we have spoken to the GEO/LGA about this.

Discussions are ongoing about the possibility of making the EnAble Fund available for this very scenario [a snap general election].

So yes, we would like to see the fund extended for this.

As an organisation we believe that the barriers preventing disabled people from standing for local/national elections should be removed and part of this is through supporting individuals with disability-related expenses.”

He added: “The fund is designed to provide financial support for reasonable adjustments and its impact was demonstrated in the English local elections [where it helped 19 disabled people win seats on local councils].”

Asked about a possible snap general election, a GEO spokesperson said she would not comment on “hypothetical scenarios”, but she said in a statement: “There is not a general election currently scheduled for the time period of the fund but we will consider parliamentary by-elections on a case-by-case basis. 

The EnAble Fund for Elected Office runs between the financial years of 2018-2020.

It was always intended to be used for the English local elections in 2019, and allocating the money across two financial years ensures all of the money can be allocated to candidates.

This is an interim fund whilst the government undertakes a programme of work with disability stakeholders to help major political parties best support disabled candidates.”

22 August 2019

 

 

Tourist attraction could face legal action after ‘years of access failings’

A world-renowned London tourist attraction could soon be facing legal action after failing for years to address its glaring access flaws, according to a former adviser.

Disabled broadcaster, journalist and access consultant Mik Scarlet said it was “shocking” that a top London tourist attraction like Camden Market was so “unwelcoming and unsafe” for disabled people.

He previously spent more than six years working two days a month advising the market on its access.

But almost nothing was done by its owners to act on his advice, he says.

He was taken on as an access consultant at a time when he was one of the market’s most outspoken and high-profile critics.

Now, he says, he feels like he was just “paid to shut up”.

It is now three years since he stopped working for Camden Market, and he believes the situation has become so bad that its accessibility failings are a significant health and safety risk to many disabled visitors.

Scarlet, who lives in Camden, told Disability News Service (DNS): “This is an internationally-famous tourist attraction. It really puts Camden on the map.

It needs to start being inclusive and represent London in the 21st century.

It is no longer an access issue. I think it’s gone past that. I think it’s a health and safety issue now.

You can’t guarantee walking around the market that you won’t trip and fall.”

He added: “I rant on Twitter a lot about this and every time I do, I’m contacted by people who either say, ‘We came, it was awful and it ruined our holiday,’ or, ‘We don’t even go there although we’ve always wanted to because we know how bad it is.’

I don’t understand why the council or the people who run it aren’t embarrassed to be known internationally as somewhere that is so [inaccessible] that disabled people will either go there and it will ruin their holiday because they will get hurt, or not go there at all because they know they will have an awful time. I just don’t get it.”

The huge, sprawling market, which stretches north from Regent’s Canal in Camden, dates back to 1974 but it is now internationally-renowned and has become a huge tourist draw for the capital.

It is the city’s largest market and is open seven days a week, but for wheelchair-users and blind and partially-sighted visitors, large parts of it are practically a no-go area because of the state of disrepair of the cobbled walkways.

Scarlet believes the cobbles, which have steadily deteriorated over the years, are the biggest access failing.

But there are also problems with the accessible toilets – one of which he says became notorious for being used by some stallholders to dispose of their used cooking fat – lifts, poor ramped access to shops and wayfinding around the maze of stalls, shops, bars and clubs.

Scarlet began working one day a month for the market about 10 years ago and spent more than six years writing reports, attending meetings and offering advice on access.

Earlier this year he was invited to a meeting with new management and he says he was promised a “rolling programme of upgrades”.

He said: “That was just after Christmas. It’s now the end of August and I haven’t seen anything done.”

He believes the only solution now is to talk to a solicitor about taking legal action against the market for disability discrimination under the Equality Act.

But he is also frustrated with Labour-run Camden council, which he says has done nothing to force the market to improve access.

He compares it with one of his current clients, Derby City Council, which pressures licensed premises to improve access and has a fund to help businesses make access improvements in keeping with the historic environment.

Scarlet remembers taking the head of athlete engagement for the London 2012 Paralympics, who was preparing information in advance of the games, on a tour of the market.

The cobbles were so bad that the man had to be strapped into his wheelchair by his personal assistant, who also had to “gaffer-tape his head to his headrest”, said Scarlet.

He later advised athletes not to visit the market until they had competed, warning them: “It is so inaccessible you will injure yourself before the games.”

DNS tried repeatedly yesterday (Wednesday) to contact Camden Market about Scarlet’s concerns, but no-one was available to comment.

But a Camden council spokesperson said: “Camden Market is an important part of the character, culture and heritage of Camden Town and the borough. 

The council wants to ensure the market is accessible to all and has encouraged the owners to share their vision strategy, to ensure that this aspiration is realised.”

He said the council’s building control service can advise businesses on accessibility audits, but there are “instances where either due to factors such as space or impact on structural integrity, or public safety, such access provision may not be possible”.

He said there had been no complaints received by the council’s licensing service relating to access to Camden Market businesses.

22 August 2018

 

 

New figures raise fresh questions over Atos PIP assessments

The amount of time that nurses and physiotherapists spend carrying out face-to-face disability benefit assessments can vary hugely, depending on where the test takes place, according to analysis of new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.

Although the figures do not prove that disabled people in some parts of the country are receiving more careful and considered personal independence payment (PIP) assessments than claimants in other areas, they do raise concerns that this could be happening.

And they suggest that there could even be such contrasting experiences for claimants being assessed compared with those in neighbouring towns, cities and counties.

The figures only relate to face-to-face PIP assessments carried out by healthcare professionals working for outsourcing giant Atos, as data is not yet available for those parts of the country covered by DWP’s other PIP contractor, Capita.

And Atos* insisted yesterday (Wednesday) that there was “no pressure on staff to complete assessments quickly” and that any variation shown in the figures was not “untoward”.

The figures show that the average time spent on face-to-face PIP assessments in one part of the south-east of England in August 2018 was just 43.5 minutes.

In the same month, the average time spent on face-to-face assessments in another part of the south-east region was 62.6 minutes, more than 40 per cent higher.

In one part of the north-west of England, in June 2018, assessments were taking an average of 47.2 minutes, compared with 63.1 minutes in another part of the north-west.

In January 2018, average face-to-face assessment times in the north-west varied from 49.4 minutes in one area to 64.7 minutes in another.

The figures are likely to be significant because each of them are averages based on hundreds – and sometimes more than 1,000 – assessments carried out in each area every month in 2018.

They are contained within data files secured from DWP under the Freedom of Information Act by campaigner John Slater.

The files he obtained have previously shown that 37 per cent of disability assessment reports completed by Capita were found to be significantly flawed.

Data released through a parliamentary question later revealed that the proportion of assessment reports completed by Atos that were found to be significantly flawed reached more than 36 per cent last year.

The new analysis of the data files will only add to these concerns about the performance of DWP’s two PIP contractors.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Fluctuations and variations are to be expected in PIP assessment times. 

PIP assessments cover a mix of different types of cases such as new claims and award reviews as well as localised approaches to disability living allowance (DLA) to PIP transitions.”

But Slater said the figures suggested a “postcode lottery” in how “local parts of Atos carry out DLA to PIP transitions (probably the most stressful part of PIP for those on DLA).

I wonder how much the DWP centre knows about these localised approaches or does it just let them do whatever they want?”

The data files show figures for different areas within seven different regions: south-west England, south-east England, London, east England, north-east England, north-west England and Scotland.

The fluctuations appear to be less severe in London and the south-west and more striking in the south-east and north-west of England.

An Atos spokesperson said: “With the focus rightly on quality there is no pressure on staff to complete assessments quickly.

A significant factor in the variation of assessment duration is the proportion of home consultations carried out in an area and those carried out in assessment centres.

Home consultations often take considerably longer to complete than those in an assessment centre.

The mix of home versus assessment centre consultations is not fixed across the country, with some areas more reliant on home consultations than others.

Individual claimant circumstances can also be a factor in causing variation at a local level.

So taken as a whole, significant variation on assessment duration on a case-by-case basis is not uncommon or untoward.”

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

22 August 2019

 

 

Disability Labour crowdfunds costs for conference access hub after party ‘snub’

Disabled delegates who are providing free access and mental health advice and support to delegates at next month’s Labour conference have had to launch an “embarrassing” crowdfunding appeal after they say the party refused to pay for any free accommodation.

At last year’s annual conference in Liverpool, the “disability hub” run by Disability Labour provided support for numerous disabled delegates, with the party paying hotel costs for one volunteer.

The hub played a key role in exposing the disablist actions of right-wing journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, who had mocked the conference safe space on social media.

This year, Disability Labour – which is affiliated to the party – plans to expand the number of volunteers offering support and advice to disabled delegates.

It expects to receive many more requests for support because of the access problems usually faced by disabled visitors to party conferences in Brighton.

Two years ago, when Labour last visited Brighton for its annual conference, many disabled party members spoke of the access problems they faced, including uneven pavements, the shortage of accessible accommodation, and problems with lifts and accessible toilets at the conference centre itself.

But four of the disabled volunteers planning to run the disability hub next month, including Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, need accessible accommodation near the conference centre.

Disability Labour has asked the party to provide two fully-accessible twin rooms for five nights across the week of the conference, with another eight volunteers with lower access needs paying for their own accommodation costs.

But they say the party has so far offered only a free space at the conference for Disability Labour to run the disability hub, even though the volunteers will be providing a free service for disabled delegates.

Disability Labour has been raising the issue with the party for several months.

It originally asked for three accessible rooms in the main conference hotel, which is located beside the conference centre, but when it was presented with a bill for £5,800 it asked if the party could provide two free accessible rooms instead.

At one stage, the party suggested rooms at £150 per night in another hotel, but it was too far from the main conference venue.

Following a breakdown in communications, Disability Labour has now been forced to launch a crowdfunding appeal, asking party members to contribute £3,600 towards its conference costs.

Springfield, who is a clinical nurse specialist, told Disability News Service: “We were staggered when we were told we would have to pay.

It’s really, really embarrassing. We should not be in this position.

We felt in Liverpool last year [that Labour was] really taking disability equality seriously, but with what is happening now, that doesn’t appear to be the case. It is soul destroying.

We had a major success last year. We changed the whole atmosphere around the way delegates were looked after.”

She said Disability Labour had left it until the last minute to launch the crowdfunding appeal in the hope that the party would provide the funding.

Springfield accepted that the dispute would not reflect well on the party.

But she said: “We shouldn’t be in this state. It’s 2019 and the party needs to recognise that the Equality Act needs to be followed and needs to be worked through.

We have people with the skill and abilities to do that and they are preventing it happening.

The party has got the money. I know we have got a general election coming up, but it is not a massive amount of money. And it is all of our income.”

Since last year, several Disability Labour members have been trained in providing mental health first aid, and they will be providing this service to disabled delegates at the conference, as well as providing advice and support on access issues.

Three of them, including Springfield, are trained as access consultants.

In all, Disability Labour will be able to call on three nurses and a psychiatrist if needed for mental health-related issues.

Sarah Taylor, another Disability Labour member who will be volunteering on the hub during the conference, said she was “very disappointed” with the party.

She said: “It is so important that my colleagues have accommodation.

We are supposed to be the party of equality and if we can’t ourselves keep within the terms of the Equality Act and put our money where our mouth is… it’s a sad show.”

After DNS contacted the party’s press office this week, a Labour party spokesperson said: “The Labour party is an inclusive organisation that prides itself on being accessible to all who share its values.”

Yesterday (Wednesday), it released a new statement: “Party officials have been discussing this matter with Disability Labour since July.

Like last year, we have offered to provide them with an accessible hotel room.”

Disability Labour confirmed that a new approach from the party had come hours earlier, after DNS had contacted the press office, and involved an offer of three discounted rooms, two of which were accessible.

None of the rooms would be free, with one being charged at £215 per night and the other two at £235 per night, although Disability Labour would only need two of the rooms, at a total cost of £2,250.

This morning, the party provided an updated statement: “Party officials have been discussing this matter with Disability Labour since July.

The party offered in July to provide Disability Labour with an accessible hotel room free of charge.”

But Kathy Bole, a Labour county councillor in Suffolk, who has been leading discussions with the party, said that at no point had she received an offer of a free, accessible room for this year’s conference.

Labour sources later said that an email offer of a free accessible room was made last month to five members of the Disability Labour executive, although not to Bole.

But Springfield and Disability Labour co-chair Wayne Blackburn denied receiving this offer, while a third member of the executive – who the party claimed had also been copied in on the email – also could not remember receiving such an offer.

22 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a bribe to stay silent.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

EHRC proposals on a new right to independent living: Welcome for draft plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

Mystery over sharp drop in disabled people’s unemployment rate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People are generally experiencing the same types of barriers.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

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

A grassroots campaign that “harnessed the anger, determination and collective action” of disabled people in Manchester has secured a council promise that they will have full access to a new memorial to the victims of the Peterloo massacre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

Tribunal decision ‘could deter companies’ from building more institutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

Anger over Unum sponsorship of ‘Superhero’ triathlon event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 August 2019

 

 

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

By Fleur Perry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The regulator’s fourth annual report on airport accessibility, published last month, found more than half of disabled people surveyed said they found travelling by air difficult, with concerns about poor customer service, long waiting times and a lack of awareness of disabled people’s needs. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

8 August 2019

 

 

Record number of disabled people receive support from Access to Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes a massive, massive difference to me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 August 2019

 

 

Research DRILLs down into bullying and social exclusion of disabled pupils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

8 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last month, Disability News Service revealed that DWP had admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how universal credit would affect different groups of disabled people.

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

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

8 August 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 14:47
Aug 012019
 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

1 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There were separate arrangements in Scotland and Wales.

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

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

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

1 August 2019

 

 

Charities ignore Justice for Jodey evidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jodey Whiting died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

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

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

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it calls on EHRC to “significantly increase the volume, transparency and publicity of its enforcement work by making much greater use of its unique enforcement powers, publicising that work and reducing its reliance on individual complainants”.

Although the committee acknowledged that the commission had had its budget cut by nearly £42 million since 2007, it said it was still repeatedly underspending on its budget, with a forecast underspend of £689,000 for 2018-19.

The committee also said it was “deeply concerned” by the way the commission had handled discrimination claims made by its own staff during its latest restructuring programme.

Despite the criticism and multiple recommendations relating to its work, EHRC refused to say if it welcomed the report, if it agreed with the committee’s conclusions, or if it would consider the recommendations for improvement.

Instead, it issued a statement describing itself as a “confident and robust defender of people’s rights”, although it failed in the statement to give any examples of how it had tackled disability discrimination.

A spokesperson said EHRC had doubled the number of legal cases it had taken in the last few years, and that it had “helped more individuals and started a number of high profile investigations”.

The only recommendations it welcomed were those where the committee had agreed with its own previous calls for action on access to justice and strengthening the public sector equality duty.

The spokesperson said the commission was “always looking to improve” and was already planning to “focus on larger, longer-term interventions to achieve greater impact and make more use of our unique powers to ensure justice for those whose rights are breached”.

The committee received written evidence from more than 200 individuals and organisations for its Enforcing the Equality Act report, including several disabled people’s organisations.

It also heard oral evidence from disabled campaigners Doug Paulley, Esther Leighton and Jeanine Blamires – who discussed the challenges they experienced when they took organisations to court for disability discrimination – and Mike Smith, a former EHRC disability commissioner.

The report concludes: “While individuals must still have the right to challenge discrimination in the courts, the system of enforcement should ensure that this is only rarely needed.

This requires a fundamental shift in the way that enforcement of the Equality Act is thought about and applied.”

Paulley welcomed the report and said he agreed with its conclusions on disability rights and the law, EHRC and enforcement of the Equality Act 2010.

But he said EHRC’s response to the report had avoided the significant criticisms of its work by the committee.

He said: “The EHRC’s ‘head in the sand’ avoidance of the significant reasoned and evidenced criticisms in the report is redolent of the very behaviour that is subject to the criticism: failure to engage with issues and concerns in a proactive way, and failure to embrace opportunities to better serve the disadvantaged people they purport to support.”

As well as criticism of EHRC’s work, the report also calls for regulators, ombudsmen and inspectorates to take more action to enforce the Equality Act.

And it calls on the government to make a “fundamental shift” in how it enforces the act, and act on its own legal obligation to “embed compliance and enforcement” into “its most significant strategies and action plans”.

The committee said it had seen “repeated examples” of government strategies that have failed to recognise discrimination “let alone contain actions to secure compliance with the Equality Act”.

The report says the government’s failure to do this in connection with its recent focus on improving the workplace “beggars belief”.

It adds: “This failure leaves the Government at serious risk of breaching the public sector equality duty in its most important strategies and means that individuals facing discrimination continue to bear the full burden of enforcement, even in policy areas that the Government has identified as of central importance to the country.”

Maria Miller, the Conservative chair of the committee, said: “Employers and service providers are not afraid to discriminate, knowing that they are unlikely to be held to account.

We need a critical mass of cases to build a culture where compliance with the Equality Act is the norm.

The EHRC must overcome its timidity. It has unique powers, limited resources and must use them for maximum impact.

It should make regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen not only key partners in creating a critical mass of enforcement action but also key targets for enforcement action when those same regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen fail to meet their own equality duties.”

1 August 2019

 

 

Ministers’ plans on ‘toxic’ impact of driver-only trains fall way short, says DPTAC

The Department for Transport (DfT) is falling “a very long way short” with its plans to ease the “toxic” impact on disabled people of running driver-only trains through unstaffed stations, according to the government’s own accessible transport advisers.

A letter from the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), obtained by the Association of British Commuters (ABC) through a freedom of information request, has revealed DPTAC’s deep concerns about how the government’s rail policies will affect disabled passengers.

DPTAC – most of whose members are disabled people – wrote to two transport ministers after reading a report by consultants Steer, and associated guidance produced by DfT, on how different methods of operating trains affect disabled people.

In the letter (PDF), sent on 9 April, DPTAC chair Keith Richards expresses repeated concerns about the Steer research, and warns that its conclusions should be used only “with extreme caution”.

It warns that the “mitigation” suggested by DfT – based on the research – for situations where there are no rail staff available to assist disabled passengers is “wholly inadequate”.

And the letter reminds the two ministers – Nusrat Ghani and Andrew Jones – of DPTAC’s “frequently-stated concern over staffing levels and, in particular, the potentially toxic combination of driver-only operated [DOO] trains and unstaffed stations”.

The DPTAC letter says the mitigations suggested in DfT’s guidance fall “a very long way short” of the objective of allowing “disabled people to use the rail network on a non-discriminatory basis”.

But the letter does say that the Steer report shows there are “only very limited opportunities” to provide such mitigation if staff are not available either on board the train or at stations to assist disabled passengers.

DPTAC says that the “availability of staff to provide assistance is crucial to the ability of many disabled passengers (and indeed older passengers more generally) to make rail journeys”.

It also warns DfT that it should take legal advice on whether forcing disabled passengers to travel on DOO trains to unstaffed stations would breach the Equality Act and other laws and regulations.

And it calls for a “fundamental review” by DfT to ensure that disabled passengers “are able to use the rail network on a non discriminatory basis”.

Almost 12 months ago, ABC published letters, minutes of meetings and responses to public consultations – again obtained through the Freedom of Information Act – which showed the government had repeatedly ignored warnings from DPTAC about the “toxic combination” of running trains through unstaffed stations without a member of customer service staff on board.

Ann Bates, a leading transport access consultant and former rail chair of DPTAC, told Disability News Service: “I was delighted that DPTAC seem so alert to the dangers reducing staff would have to the frequently and rightly stated aim that disabled passengers should have an equal right to travel as other passengers.

DPTAC’s letter to the ministers dated 9 April 2019 is entirely correct in stating that, especially in the toxic situation of DOO trains travelling to staffless stations, there would appear to be no easily implemented mitigation available.

This confirms work that ABC and others have been researching for years in that running trains with well trained staff would be the most pragmatic and reliable way of ensuring access for the full range of passengers with both visible and invisible disabilities.”

ABC’s Emily Yates said: “After three years of rail strikes we’ve had enough of the government’s charade.

Train operating companies must guarantee the second safety critical member of staff on trains and the Department for Transport must provide the full details of their secret policy [to allow more DOO trains].

If they fail to do this, both will be complicit in breaching the Equality Act and excluding disabled people from the right to spontaneous travel.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT rail union, said: “RMT has fought the government and the train operating companies tooth and nail to defend a second safety critical member of staff on our trains and we’ve stepped up the campaign to put more staff back in our stations.

The new rail minister must publish this report, put an end to this disgraceful exercise and put staff back at the heart of a fully accessible railway.”

A DfT spokesperson had refused by noon today (Thursday) to say if the department accepted and understood the concerns about the combination of DOO and unstaffed stations raised by DPTAC, and if it accepted DPTAC’s recommendations to take legal advice on potential breaches of the Equality Act and to carry out a review.

But he said in a statement: “Disabled passengers should have the same opportunities to travel as everyone else, which is why we expect all train operators to have clear plans in place for how they will help passengers who need it.

We continue to work with DPTAC on this issue and will look to publish the [Steer] report in due course.”

Meanwhile, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has published new guidance for the rail industry aimed at improving access to Britain’s railway for older and disabled people.

The new guidance, which follows two public consultations, tells train and station operators what they “must” include in their own Accessible Travel Policies – which are replacing Disabled Persons’ Protection Policies – as well as setting out recommended good practice that those policies “may” also feature.

ORR says operators must set out in their Accessible Travel Policies how they will ensure they spend enough on assisting disabled passengers through the Passenger Assist service.

And it describes how the notice that disabled passengers must give to book assistance in advance must gradually be cut until the minimum is just two hours from 1 April 2022.

ORR says train operators must set out a policy on carrying mobility scooters and “make the reasoning behind their policy clear”, while any policy that excludes some or all scooters or mobility aids “must only be as a result of an evidenced safety or physical restriction”.

And it says train and station operators “must operate a regular forum of disabled passengers, to include users of assisted travel, with whom they consult on accessibility issues”.

They must also ensure that the information on step-free access, assisted travel and the availability of staff help that is included on the station pages of the National Rail Enquiries website is “up to date and accurate”.

The new guidance should make it easier for disabled passengers to receive compensation if the assistance they book in advance fails to be provided, and it should also lead to improved staff training.

Some of the guidance featured in recommendations made by ORR to the Williams Rail Review earlier this month.

1 August 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:21
Jul 252019
 

 

DWP sanctions system discriminated against disabled people for a decade, figures show

The government’s mainstream benefit sanctions regime has been discriminating against disabled people throughout nearly the whole of the last decade, according to new figures secured by Disability News Service (DNS).

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures, obtained through a freedom of information request, show that disabled people claiming the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) were more likely to have their benefits sanctioned than non-disabled people in all but two years.

The figures show this has been true for every year from 2009 to 2018, except for 2017 and 2018 when the figures for disabled and non-disabled JSA claimants were almost identical.

They provide further evidence for the call in the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition for DWP to be declared institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose*.

The DNS research builds on work by the academic Ben Baumberg Geiger, from the University of Kent, which was published in February 2018 and reported figures for 2010 to 2014.

It has taken DNS nearly 18 months to secure the necessary data from DWP – which has repeatedly breached its legal obligations to provide the information – to show whether the discrimination continued after 2014.

The figures show that, when the JSA sanctions system was at its most discriminatory – in 2009 and 2013 – disabled people claiming jobseeker’s allowance were about 50 per cent more likely (2009) and a third more likely (2013) to have their benefits sanctioned than non-disabled people claiming the same benefit.

The figures take a snapshot of how many disabled and non-disabled JSA claimants were sanctioned in one month – May – for every year and compare that with how many disabled and non-disabled people were claiming JSA in that month, using figures provided by DWP through the freedom of information request.

When DWP’s sanctioning regime was at its most extreme, in 2013, more than seven per cent of disabled people claiming JSA were sanctioned in May of that year, compared with more than five per cent of non-disabled JSA claimants.

In May 2013, more than 21,000 disabled people (21,526) claiming JSA had their benefits sanctioned for breaching conditions laid down by DWP.

But even in 2018, when far fewer JSA claimants were being sanctioned, a disabled JSA claimant was still almost as likely to be sanctioned (0.41 per cent) as a non-disabled claimant (0.45 per cent).

A DWP spokesperson did not dispute the DNS figures, but he said that DWP did not accept that the evidence showed the department was institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose.

He also pointed out that the figures were drawn from “an amalgamation of two different sources”.

He said: “Since 2012, of all decisions that have been referred to a decision maker, disabled claimants are less likely to get an adverse sanction decision imposed, compared to non-disabled claimants.

Furthermore, the likelihood of the outcome of a sanction referral being adverse [a recommendation that a claimant should be sanctioned being confirmed by DWP] is lower for disabled claimants than non-disabled claimants.”

He added: “It is completely untrue to say that sanctions are applied more harshly to disabled people.

In fact those with a severe disability or health condition, who are not required to seek work, are not subject to sanctions at all.

Sanctions are only ever used where a claimant has failed to meet their agreed obligations without good reason, and any obligations will vary depending on an individual claimant’s circumstances.

The latest figures show that universal credit sanctions have fallen to the lowest rate on record, affecting fewer than three per cent of claimants who are subject to obligations for their benefits.”

Although the DWP figures are important in showing how the department appeared to repeatedly discriminate against disabled people for nearly a decade, there are now crucial concerns over its failure to show how many disabled claimants of the new universal credit, which is gradually replacing JSA for most people, are being sanctioned.

Anita Bellows, a researcher for Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), this week told a parliamentary inquiry into the impact on children and disabled people of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 that many disabled people were “becoming invisible” on universal credit.

She told the evidence session, chaired by Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, that the lack of clear information about universal credit (UC) being provided by DWP made it impossible to tell how many disabled people were being sanctioned.

Dr David Webster, a leading researcher on unemployment and sanctions at the University of Glasgow, made a similar point to the Commons work and pensions select committee last year.

He warned then that it was impossible to tell from DWP statistics how many claimants of UC who had been sanctioned were sick and disabled people.

A House of Commons briefing paper last September – drawing on Dr Webster’s research – said that sanction rates under UC appeared to be “several times higher” than under the benefits they were replacing.

Bellows said: “It is not surprising to learn that disabled JSA claimants are being disproportionally sanctioned, as it has been a constant feature in the benefit system that some people, including disabled unemployed people, are seen as soft targets by the DWP: people who have learning difficulties, mental and physical health issues, along with people for whom English is their second language, etc.

What is worrying is that the introduction of UC has led to the invisibility of disabled people in the system.   

Information given by UC statistics does not desegregate the data by claims, or by work capability assessment outcomes, but by ‘conditionality group’.

These different conditionality groups include disabled and non-disabled claimants, which makes it impossible to know the percentage of disabled people exposed to sanctions, or who are being sanctioned. 

What it means is that it is more difficult to know what is happening to disabled people in the benefit system and to hold the DWP accountable for its performance, at a time where the DWP is more and more resorting to exemptions in order to refuse answering freedom of information requests.”

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

25 July 2019

 

 

Police force admits agreement to share information about protesters with DWP

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has admitted that it has a written agreement to share information about disabled people and other activists who take part in protests with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Disabled activists have expressed alarm at the confirmation, which came despite previous denials by the force and DWP that any such agreement existed.

They said the existence of the agreement was a clear blow to the right to protest of disabled people who claim benefits.

Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) said it was “extremely concerned” that its local police force was “spying on disabled protesters and passing on their details onto the DWP”.

GMCDP said the agreement was “yet another example of the punitive and unwarranted targeting of disabled people”. 

Concerns about links between DWP and police forces such as GMP – and the impact on disabled people’s right to protest – first emerged last December after Disability News Service (DNS) reported that forces had been targeting disabled protesters taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

Lancashire police then admitted in December that it had shared both information and video footage of disabled anti-fracking protesters with DWP, in an apparent attempt to have their disability benefits removed.

Greater Manchester Police then told DNS that it had passed DWP information about protesters taking part in anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, Salford, which took place in 2013 and 2014, and also confirmed that it had shared information with DWP from protests not connected with fracking.

This raised concerns that it might have passed information to DWP about disabled people who protested in Manchester about the government’s austerity-related social security reforms, particularly during high-profile actions around the Conservative party conferences in 2015 and 2017.

GMP later claimed that it had not shared any information with DWP about disabled activists who had taken part in the 2015 and 2017 protests.

The Conservative party is returning to Manchester for its annual conference in October.

GMP has previously denied – in response to a freedom of information request – having a written agreement to share data with DWP, while DWP has said repeatedly that it has no such “formal arrangement” with GMP or any other force.

GMP’s press office had initially suggested that it did have an agreement with DWP, before later denying there was one.

Labour’s deputy mayor for policing for Greater Manchester, Baroness [Bev] Hughes, told DNS in February that she had “consulted with senior officers within GMP who have assured me that there is no formal ‘sharing agreement’ in place, and that the police act on a case by case basis, sharing information in accordance with the Data Protection Act”.

But after DNS submitted a second freedom of information request to the force, a member of its information management team confirmed that there was such an agreement.

After DNS asked if GMP had an agreement to share information from various protests with DWP, he said he had “located a multi-agency agreement to which DWP are one of many partners”, but he said this had “not yet been assessed for disclosure to you”.

He said that most of the agreement “relates to controls/rules partners must adhere to when handling information”.

He later told DNS, on 17 April, that he had “identified the area of the force that is responsible for the sharing agreement” and had “posed your question to them, and am awaiting a reply”.

The force failed to respond to further emails – which appears to have been a breach of the Freedom of Information Act – until this week.

But yesterday (Wednesday), a member of GMP’s information management team said he would “risk assess the agreement next week for disclosure” to DNS.

The force’s press office refused to comment this week, or to explain why it had previously claimed there was no such agreement.

Brian Hilton, GMCDP’s digital campaigns officer, said the coalition was “extremely concerned that our local police force is spying on disabled protesters and passing on their details onto the DWP”.

He said: “This is worrying on so many levels. Disabled people in Greater Manchester have always protested against injustice, whether this be campaigning for our own rights or in support of others.

This news sends a clear message that disabled people should think carefully before they take to the streets and exercise their legitimate right to protest.”

He added: “Are we now saying if you can protest you should not be in receipt of benefits?

Should disabled people stay locked inside their homes in case they are sanctioned?

What’s next? Are the police going to run undercover operations at festivals to see if disabled people are brazen enough to sway in time to the music or, god forbid, dance?”

Hilton said repeated studies had shown there was “no epidemic of fraudulent [benefit] claims”, and that the force’s agreement with DWP was “yet another example of the punitive and unwarranted targeting of disabled people”. 

Dennis Queen, from the Manchester branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “We would like to see this ‘multi-agency agreement’ to which DWP are one of many partners, because the agreement means conditions are effectively being imposed that disabled people have no idea about, they cannot bear them in mind, make informed consent, and so on.

This sounds like a breach of our rights to engage in political protest to me.”

Queen said concerns about the agreement would have “a directly chilling effect on people’s ability to stick up for their rights and join in campaigns, both relating to disability and not.

Given my own arrest for an offence I did not commit during [a Tory] conference this is a personal concern too.”

In 2017, disabled activists from the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and DPAC criticised “heavy-handed” police tactics at a direct action protest that blocked tram lines outside the conference.

Queen was arrested for public disorder but was later found not guilty.

She said: “Have I been reported to the DWP? Do the police now have a right to find out if I am a client of theirs?

What other private information are they privy to? Did the police update them that I wasn’t guilty of the charges?”

25 July 2019

 

 

Boris Johnson’s arrival as PM greeted with alarm, scepticism and appeal for engagement

Disabled people and their organisations have reacted to Boris Johnson becoming the new prime minister with alarm and scepticism, but also an appeal for “honest engagement”.

Johnson has already concerned many opponents – both within his party and among opposition parties – by filling key ministerial posts with Brexit-supporters and right-wingers such as Dominic Raab as foreign secretary and Priti Patel as home secretary.

And although Johnson mentioned the need to “fix the crisis in social care once and for all” in his first speech as prime minister yesterday (Wednesday), he mentioned only older people – like many ministers and other politicians before him – and ignored working-age disabled people, even though about half of local authority spending on social care is on working-age adults.

Johnson said he had “a clear plan we have prepared to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”, but there will be a suspicion that this is merely the much-delayed adult social care green paper promised by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock.

Hancock, who has kept his post under the new prime minister, has already suggested that his green paper is unlikely to include a definitive plan for how to reform adult social care funding, but instead will simply “bring together the debate… behind a direction of travel where we can make progress”.

Alan Benson, chair of Transport for All, the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London, said that during Johnson’s time as mayor of London “he not only failed to engage with disabled people and their organisations but he dismantled the structures that were already existing.

This sets a worrying precedent. We hope that a similar pattern is not now seen across government.”

He said that Theresa May and London mayor Sadiq Khan had been “at odds” during May’s time as prime minister, resulting in “huge budget cuts” for Transport for London and “an unwillingness to devolve rail services”.

Benson said: “This has hit London’s travellers hard and particularly impacted disabled and older people.”

He warned that the relationship between Boris Johnson and Sadiq Khan was even worse than that between May and the mayor, “so we can only see the situation deteriorating”.

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, president of the Liberal Democrats, said Johnson’s record on equality – particularly around race – was “not encouraging”.

She said: “The problem is he is just unthinking and the worry is that, particularly with disability, we may have the legislation but we don’t have the culture.

I would hope he will demonstrate a genuine delivery of the Equality Act to make disabled people’s lives better, but I am not holding my breath.

My worry is he is more concerned about a snappy message than he is about the underlying issues. He has to prove himself to the disabled community.”

The crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell said she hoped Johnson would build on one of the “few positive moves” made by Theresa May, in the last weeks of her premiership, to set up a new strategic, cross-government disability unit in the Cabinet Office.

She said: “This is an opportunity for him to engage honestly and realistically with disabled people on building a society inclusive of all people.

Better engagement with all sectors of society and parliament is something that he did mention in his acceptance speech – let’s hope he is serious about the ‘everyone’!”

Sue Bott, head of policy and research for Disability Rights UK, raised concerns about the impact of a potential no deal Brexit under Johnson.

She said: “Given the stated commitment of Boris Johnson to take the UK out of the European Union (EU) on 31 October with or without a deal, we are very concerned that the rights disabled people currently enjoy as members of the EU will continue post-Brexit, particularly given the impossibility of passing the necessary legislation on time.”

There is already frustration with Johnson from The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), after he told a journalist during his leadership campaign that he wanted to increase the number of free special schools.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said he had also ignored a letter from ALLFIE during the campaign that asked how he would implement the recommendations to the UK made by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities in 2017, when it called for a “coherent strategy” on “increasing and improving inclusive education”.

Aspis said: “We understand Boris Johnson is looking to fund more special schools.

This is a clear violation of disabled people’s human rights, and non-engagement with disabled people’s organisations like ALLFIE is not a good start.”

There was particular anger and frustration with the new prime minister from disabled people’s anti-cuts groups, which have been fighting Tory-led austerity policies for nearly a decade.

Bob Ellard, of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said, before yesterday’s ministerial appointments were announced: “He’s a Tory and whoever he makes work and pensions secretary, chancellor and minister for disabled people will be Tories.

Since 2010 not one single Tory has done or said anything that benefits disabled people and that ain’t going to change now. The cruelty and the harm it creates is set to continue.”

Michelle Maher, from WOWcampaign, said she believed a Boris Johnson government would see the UK become a “vassal state” to Donald Trump’s United States and would “wave goodbye to the NHS, which for sick and disabled people is our lifeline as no one will insure us”.

She said: “Nowhere in the discourse are disabled children, adults and their carers.

We are completely ‘othered’ now by 10 years of austerity and hate speech aimed at us. This will only get worse for us, as a far-right Tory ideology takes hold.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “As humanitarians, of course we welcome his statement at the steps of Number 10 this afternoon that his government will try to do more for animal welfare.

As for the human catastrophe that has befallen disabled people under successive Tory prime ministers since 2010 – absolutely nothing.”

McArdle also raised concerns about Johnson’s comments about mental health, in an article earlier this month, in which he claimed that the only way to really treat depression was through the “cure” of work.

McArdle said: “Disabled people will now, and with good cause, be living in fear of what rash decisions this entirely unpredictable prime minister may take next with regard to mental health and social policy.”

Rick Burgess, from Manchester DPAC, said: “Considering Boris Johnson’s voting record on social security and his total disinterest in disability rights indicates this will be a continuation of Tory disablism along with more hostile policies for all minority groups.

Only regime change through a general election will end this era of abrogation of rights, immiseration, and death.”

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “We have a new prime minister but it appears no new ideas.

Brexit is set to dominate the political agenda for the foreseeable future, all of which distracts from the ongoing problems facing disabled people.”

He called for a “clear timescale” for the publication of the social care green paper and a consultation which “actively engages with and listens to disabled people”.

He said: “We also need Boris Johnson to signal that his government is going to tackle the devastating effects that universal credit is having on disabled people and their families.

It is no good tinkering around the edges with this failed endeavour, it needs replacing.”

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, raised concerns about the NHS, and said that “Boris Johnson’s obsession with leaving the EU, with or without a deal, is a disaster for disabled people and everyone who uses the NHS”, and warning of the impact on the supply of vital drugs, appliances such as stoma bags, nutritional feeds, and on recruitment.

25 July 2019

 

 

Mayor’s research finds 10 years of social security cuts hit disabled Londoners hardest

New research for the mayor of London has shown how 10 years of government welfare cuts and reforms have “discriminated” against disabled Londoners.

The mayor of London has written to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd to ask her to reverse a series of government social security cuts, after his report showed the dramatic impact on disabled Londoners of 10 years of welfare reform.

Labour’s Sadiq Khan told Amber Rudd in his letter that the assessment of the combined impact of the government’s tax and social security reforms showed disabled households in London had been “hardest hit” by the cuts.

He said in comments released alongside the report that the government’s “regressive” policies had discriminated against disabled Londoners, although he did not accuse the government of discrimination in his letter to Rudd.

Researchers, commissioned by the mayor, carried out a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of years of tax and benefit changes on adults in London.

Ministers have repeatedly refused to carry out their own CIA, even though the Equality and Human Rights Commission published such research itself last year.

The mayor’s research found that, by 2021-22, households in London that include a disabled person will have lost an average of £1,910 a year, compared to households with no disabled adults, who are expected to gain an average of £300 a year.

Households with both children and a disabled person will receive an average of £3,760 a year less than they would otherwise have received if the government’s reforms had not been introduced.

The report found that poorer Londoners will experience a drop in their incomes, while richer Londoners will see their incomes increase as a result of the government’s policies.

The analysis includes changes brought in through the coalition’s Welfare Reform Act 2012, and the Conservative government’s Welfare Reform and Work Act four years later, as well as a series of finance bills.

These changes include the introduction of universal credit and personal independence payment (PIP), the benefit cap, the bedroom tax, cuts to housing benefit, the benefits freeze, and the cut of nearly £30 a week for those in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of employment and support allowance, as well as increases in the minimum wage and the personal tax allowance.

Results from The Survey of Londoners, another piece of research commissioned by the mayor, published last month, showed disabled Londoners struggling with food insecurity, fuel poverty and overall levels of satisfaction with their lives.

The survey showed a third of disabled Londoners (34 per cent) experiencing low levels of food security, with one in four not able to keep their homes warm in the winter, and only just over a third (38 per cent) reporting high levels of wellbeing.

In his letter, the mayor told Rudd: “In this letter I particularly want to flag the extent to which disabled households in London have been hardest hit by cuts to the welfare benefits system.”

He asked Rudd to reverse a series of government cuts and reforms because of their impact on disabled Londoners, including the WRAG cut, the benefits freeze, and the bedroom tax, and to order a “complete redesign” of the PIP assessment process and the work capability assessment.

And he said he was “extremely concerned” about the impact on Londoners of the rollout of universal credit.

He added: “I do not want to be in a society where the most disadvantaged are put at risk of poverty or destitution.

With disabled Londoners more likely to be struggling with food security and fuel poverty, you need to act now to stop putting disabled Londoners at even greater risk.”

But despite his letter, and a new pilot project to support low income families, the mayor released no details of any new plans to address his concerns about the impact of the government cuts on disabled Londoners.

Ellen Clifford, a disabled member of the mayor’s equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group, said: “I am very pleased that this report has now come out because it provides an evidence base for what we know from lived experience is happening, namely the disproportionate impacts of welfare reform and tax changes on the poorest in London.

It supports the picture presented by data from the recently published Londoners Survey which shows disabled people and children in households with disabled adults experiencing significant economic and social inequality.

Only 18 per cent of respondents who are disabled and long term out of work report high or very high satisfaction with their lives, with nearly half (46 per cent) scoring themselves in the lowest life satisfaction category.

That is immensely sad and the result of nearly 10 years of policies that have punished disabled people in receipt of social security.

I welcome the response by London’s mayor in writing to Amber Rudd calling for policy changes that will exempt disabled claimants from measures that are contributing to loss of income and impoverishment.”

A spokesperson for the mayor said he was “extremely concerned about the impact the government’s welfare reforms have had on disabled Londoners, as shown by the Survey of Londoners and City Hall research”.

And he said the mayor would “continue to push the government to reverse the effects of its policies and ensure disabled Londoners are given support”, for example through his new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, and setting up the equality, diversity and inclusion advisory group.

He said the mayor was also “working closely” with Transport for London on “continual access improvements to London’s transport network”; investing £75 million in specialist, supported housing for disabled Londoners; and working to boost the incomes of those in fuel poverty through the Energy for Londoners programmes, with priority groups including disabled people.

And he said he was promoting a better understanding by employers of disabled people’s experiences of application, assessment, selection, employment and progression in work through the Good Work Standard.

25 July 2019

 

 

Mother of Jodey Whiting displays her broken heart outside DWP HQ

The mother of a disabled woman who died as a result of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failings stood outside its headquarters in Whitehall this week to remind civil servants and ministers how their actions caused her daughter’s death.

Joy Dove, whose daughter Jodey Whiting died in 2017, was taking part in an action being staged by disabled artist-activist Dolly Sen in front of Caxton House.

She and others held up heart-shaped boards, on which Sen had written the names of four disabled men and women who had lost their lives because of DWP’s benefit assessment regimes: Jodey Whiting, Stephen Carré, Mark Wood and Susan Roberts.

Other hearts showed the phrases “broken hearts for the DWP” and “hearts stopped by DWP policies”.

The action aimed to highlight how DWP policies have caused thousands of “broken hearts”.

Sen said: “Joy is here to mourn that her daughter has passed because of this building behind us.

We want these hearts to be still beating. The more hearts that are stopped by the building behind us, the stronger our hearts will get.

We will fight for every person who is let down by the building behind us.”

As DWP staff entered and left the building, Sen asked each of them if they would personally sign off the next death to be caused by DWP.

Every DWP civil servant she asked ignored her question.

Sen said: “The workers who are going in and out may not have physically killed somebody, but they are the cogs in a system that is churning out coffin after coffin after coffin.”

She added, addressing staff in the building behind her: “Do you understand that hearts have stopped because of what you’re doing? Shame on you.”

This week’s action is one of several being devised by Sen that will be edited into a film, to be shown at film and art festivals, schools and universities, while there will also be “guerrilla projections” of the film onto bus stops and the walls of buildings, including – possibly –Caxton House itself.

Sen said afterwards: “We want more people to know what’s going on.”

She added: “It was a symbolic protest: a heart that goes de-dum, de-dum, de-dum, and it just stops because of this building.

To me it is just a horrific and really painful thought. If you took this building out of the chain of decisions, people would still be alive.”

She said she had not expected DWP staff to engage with the protest.

She said: “How could they really justify what they are doing? The machine can’t work without the cogs and these people are the cogs.”

Joy Dove, who travelled from her home in the north-east to take part in the action, said afterwards that she had wanted DWP to know that she was there.

Dove, who was supported by her son Jamie, Jodey’s brother, thanked Sen and her producer, disabled artist Caroline Cardus, for asking her to take part.

She said: “When I saw the heart I wanted to cry, but I had to be strong for Jodey.”

She said it had been her first visit to London since 1983. “It was a big step but I’m glad I have done it. I will carry on as long as I can.

I knew from the start that what they did to Jodey was wrong. The day they said she was fit for work I knew it wasn’t right.”

Her daughter died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

The Independent Case Examiner concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case.

Dove said she was still pursuing legal action through her solicitor, with the hope of a second inquest into her daughter’s death, while she continued to support the Justice for Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition* and its call for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP.

She said: “I want justice for Jodey. I won’t give up.”

Dove was joined at the protest by Gill Thompson, whose brother, David Clapson, died in July 2013 as a result of an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned.

Because he had no money, he couldn’t afford to pay for electricity that would have kept the fridge where he kept his insulin working, in the height of summer, and he had also run out of food.

His sister told the protest: “I just want all the suffering to stop. No more deaths and no more benefit cuts.”

Another disabled artist-activist, Julie McNamara, said the action and other protests were “gentle steps… towards having our voices heard. Remember there is still hope.”

She said: “People in a room together created this system. We intend to dismantle this system.

It was people who created the system and it will be people who dismantle it.”

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “We are here to mourn every human being affected by welfare reform.

We mourn every name. [Each of them] is a person with a story.”

Peters asked supporters of the protest and passers-by to sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls for an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s failings, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants and ministers to be passed to police.

It also calls on MPs to brand DWP institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for the department to take urgent steps to make the safety of benefit claimants a priority.

Peters said that all disabled people should see what was happening at the action and “live in hope” because the “resistance” to the welfare reforms of successive Conservative-led governments was “very much still here”.

And she promised those who have lost loved ones that “the quest for justice will never stop”.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

25 July 2019

 

 

Welfare reform caused child deaths, poor health and food poverty, inquiry hears

A key piece of government legislation that slashed social security payments to disabled people and families with children has led to infant deaths, poor health and severe food poverty, activists, policy experts and academics have told a parliamentary inquiry.

The inquiry, being held by the all party parliamentary group for health in all policies, chaired by Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, is examining the impact of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016 on children and disabled adults.

A string of experts lined up to warn the inquiry of the severe impacts of the act, including measures such as the lowering of the benefit cap, the working-age benefits freeze, the cuts of nearly £30 a week to payments to those in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance, and the two-child limit to the child element of child tax credit and universal credit.

Among the most striking pieces of evidence, the inquiry heard there have been 600 more infant deaths than would otherwise have been expected between 2014 and 2017 in England, with about 200 of them likely to have been caused by rising levels of child poverty.

Professor David Taylor Robinson, a professor of public health and policy at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Population Health Sciences, said these “very, very unusual rises in child mortality” had been seen in the most deprived areas of the country.

He said there was also likely to be a significant health impact on other children in deprived areas as they aged, and that families were “living in a state of profound anxiety about how to get by from one day to the next”.

He said: “Poverty is absolutely toxic for children’s life chances. The things we are seeing now in terms of mortality are a very concerning initial indicator that things are going wrong.”

He stressed the importance of “considering what is going on with mortality. This is a profoundly unusual demographic change we are seeing at the moment.

We are used to seeing life expectancy in countries that are doing well increase year on year.”

But he said life expectancy had plateaued since 2010 and was now falling in deprived areas, which was “an unprecedented shift”.

He added: “People are not talking about life expectancy and I don’t think the public are aware of the profound nature of these changes.”

Dr Aaron Reeves, an associate professor in social policy and intervention at the University of Oxford, said there was “preliminary evidence” that the benefits freeze was “contributing to food poverty”.

And he said that cuts to social security had had negative implications for mental health and had pushed people further from the jobs market.

He said that “food insecure” families were “much more likely to experience mental health problems” as “food insecurity is a source of stress and anxiety”.

He said that the proportion of people who were “food insecure” had been “rising dramatically but is concentrated among those who are disabled”, while many of those who were experiencing food insecurity did not have local food banks available to them.

He said the government’s benefit sanctions regime was partly to blame (see separate story), adding: “It is disabled people and lone parents who are disproportionately affected by sanctions, partly because their lives are more difficult organisationally.

They are people who find it difficult and therefore fall foul of the claimant commitment.”

The all party group also heard from charities, thinktanks and the grassroots group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

Jasmine Basran, a senior policy officer at Crisis, told the evidence session that her charity was hearing from disabled people who were being forced to use their disability benefits to make up the difference between the housing benefit they received and the rent they needed to pay.

She said this was leading to fears of homelessness, particularly among those who have lost their entitlement to personal independence payment, and that it was causing severe anxiety and exacerbating health conditions.

Another to give evidence was Tom Pollard, now an associate at the Demos thinktank and a trainee mental health social worker, but previously part of the policy and campaigns team at the charity Mind.

Pollard spent 18 months on secondment from Mind, advising the Department for Work and Pensions on mental health policy issues.

He called in his evidence for DWP to be stripped of its responsibility for supporting disabled people into work.

He said a key problem was that if DWP policies have a negative impact on people’s mental health this does not “come back to bite them” because the department does not collect those figures.

Pollard said that jobcentres were “totally unconducive to supporting people with mental health conditions”, although their staff “do their best”.

He said: “The chips are so stacked against them because it is a system that is totally not right.”

He said DWP had a history of being “reasonably effective” in moving people who had lost their jobs back into employment “reasonably quickly”, but he added: “That is the one lever they have to pull, so they keep pulling it”.

He said: “I wouldn’t have DWP responsible for anyone with more complex circumstances.

They have a very fixed view of seeing the world and this stuff doesn’t really fit that picture.”

Pollard also dismissed DWP’s repeated claims that removing the WRAG payment of nearly £30 a week – a policy brought in in 2017 – would act as an incentive to help disabled people into work.

He said the evidence he had seen among people with mental health problems was that cutting the WRAG payment had had “exactly the opposite effect” and instead encouraged a “siege mentality”, with people desperate to get into the support group (and its equivalent in the universal credit system), for those who do not need to take part in any work-related activity.

He said: “People’s mindset is one of trying to hunker down and maintain some form of stability.”

Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said the lack of evidence for the government’s regime of sanctions and strict conditions that need to be met by out-of-work benefit claimants was “absolutely shocking”.

She said: “There is now overwhelming evidence that it is actually counter-productive.

There are policies being implemented that are having a detrimental impact on people’s health and yet they are not being rigorously tested before implementation. In fact, quite the opposite.”

And she highlighted the flawed legal system that made it hard to challenge the discriminatory impact of the government’s social security reforms.

Clifford also pointed to new research published this month by the mayor of London, which showed the dramatic impact of the government’s welfare reforms on disabled Londoners (see separate story).

DPAC researcher Anita Bellows told the evidence session that many disabled people were “becoming invisible” on universal credit because the way DWP was publishing its statistics was often making it impossible to see what was happening to them.

She said some disabled people who would eventually be found “not fit for work” were being sanctioned under universal credit while awaiting their work capability assessment, while that sanction was staying with them even though they were then placed in a group whose members should never be sanctioned because of their high support needs.

She said the way the universal credit figures are published means that it is impossible to know how many disabled people are in this situation.

25 July 2019

 

 

Rates of pay set by councils ‘are so low that families struggle to recruit PAs’

Rates of pay for personal assistants (PAs) are so low that local authorities could be in breach of their legal duties to families with disabled children, according to new research by Leeds University.

Results of a survey of families found the average gross* hourly weekday rate they received from their local council to pay a PA was just £8.90.

It found that almost all PAs were paid at rates “near or just above the minimum wage”, and that many families said these rates were too low to recruit suitable PAs, even though their local authority was willing to pay much higher rates for agency staff.

Of 256 responses from families, there was just one report of a council increasing pay rates to make it easier to recruit a PA.

The report says its findings “strongly suggest that there is a severe market failure in many local authority areas”, with councils “arguably in breach of their statutory and public law obligations to families with disabled children”.

Even securing an assessment of a disabled child’s needs was often a “matter of chance”, with some families learning about services only “through word of mouth” and some waiting up to two years for an assessment.

One parent who responded to the survey said: “At the moment it would seem the whole system is collapsing from health, education and social services.

I just keep getting told there is nothing else they can offer me, and there are no funds to help us.”

More than half of the families that responded said the amount of direct payments they received was not enough to cover all their child’s needs that had been identified by their local council.

The report concludes: “Strict rationing of resources is resulting in families experiencing stress, an acute lack of support and prolonged ‘battles’ to secure basic services that they are entitled to by law.”

Alongside the survey, freedom of information requests were sent to 60 English councils with social services responsibilities.

They reported an average gross standard hourly rate of £10.57, slightly higher than the £8.90 reported by the survey of families.

The report says there are “deep levels of dissatisfaction” with the way that direct payments are run by local authorities.

And it says there is an “urgent need” for the government to carry out a “fundamental review” of the direct payments scheme.

It says the research suggests that health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has a public law duty to address the failings, while similar action may be necessary in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson declined to comment on the report, the findings on rates of pay for PAs, the concerns about market failure, or the call for a fundamental review of direct payments.

Instead, he issued a statement about personal budgets, which are different from direct payments**.

He said: “People can benefit from much greater choice, flexibility and control over their health and care support with personal budgets. 

Local authorities are responsible for providing high-quality personal budgets that best meet people’s needs, and we are working to improve access, including supporting guidance to ensure individual choice is not limited.

We have given local authorities access to up to £3.9 billion more dedicated funding for adult social care this year, and a further £410 million is available for adults and children’s services.

We will set out our plans to reform the social care system at the earliest opportunity to ensure it is sustainable for the future.”

The research was carried out by students at Leeds University’s School of Law, working with Cerebra, a charity for children with neurological conditions, under the supervision of Professor Luke Clements.

It is part of the Legal Entitlements and Problem-Solving Project, based at the School of Law, and set up by Cerebra in 2014 to support disabled children and their families experiencing problems in accessing their legal entitlements to care and support.

The report will soon be available from the university’s Cerebra research programme home page

*The gross figure is how much the family is allocated to pay its PA before any extra employment costs – such as national insurance, holiday and sickness pay – have been deducted

**Direct payments are one particular way of spending a personal budget

25 July 2019

 

 

MP suggests DWP lied over promise to introduce PIP assessment recording

An MP has suggested the government was “not telling us the truth” when it promised last year to allow all disabled people to record their personal independence payment (PIP) face-to-face assessments.

The claim came in a week in which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) accepted the latest in a long line of damaging court rulings on disability benefits; and received a warning from the work and pensions select committee that the application page for its new universal credit benefit system should “come with a health warning”.

This week, DWP also finally began making backdated payments to disabled people with high support needs who lost out by hundreds of pounds a month when they moved onto universal credit.

Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd – who was later confirmed in her post by the new prime minister, Boris Johnson – was yesterday (Wednesday) giving evidence to the Commons work and pensions select committee.

Labour committee member Neil Coyle suggested to her that DWP was “not telling us the truth” when – in its response to a report by the committee in April 2018 – it admitted the need to “build trust in the system” of PIP assessments, and said ministers therefore intended “to make recording the PIP assessment a standard part of the process”.

Coyle said: “The commitment was to record by default all PIP assessments. That is not happening.”

Rudd admitted yesterday: “It’s not happening at the moment,” before adding: “The evidence I’ve got is we are going to look at it again in the autumn.”

Neil Couling, DWP’s director general for change, said the department had had to extend a pilot programme examining how recording would work because of the “very low demand” there had been for taping assessments, but would “report in the autumn on what we have found from claimants”.

The committee’s report concluded last year that the disability benefit assessment system was being undermined by a “pervasive culture of mistrust”.

It followed an investigation by Disability News Service that produced hundreds of accounts from PIP claimants who described the dishonesty of written assessment reports produced by healthcare professionals from DWP contractors Atos and Capita.

Rudd did tell Coyle that she would consider his suggestion that DWP should reduce the number of routine benefit reassessments for people with progressive health conditions.

She said: “I have been trying to reduce the amount of assessments that are taking place.

I’ve removed it for pensioners [she said in March that about 270,000 people receiving PIP who have reached pension age would no longer have their awards regularly reviewed], and we’ll look again at end of life assessments for people with terminal illnesses [she said earlier this month that DWP would review how the benefits system supports people nearing the end of their life and those with ‘severe conditions’].

So if the honourable gentleman wants me to take a look at progressive illnesses, I will do that as well privately and come back to him.”

Two days earlier – just three days before MPs were due to begin their summer recess – Rudd had finally laid regulations before parliament that will allow disabled people who previously claimed the severe disability premium (SDP) to receive backpayments to compensate them for the lower rates of support they received after being moved onto universal credit when their circumstances changed.

They will receive payments of up to £405 per month alongside their universal credit awards, with Rudd estimating that about 45,000 claimants will benefit from this package of support by 2024-25.

Previous regulations also mean that claimants currently receiving SDP will not be moved onto universal credit if they have a change of circumstances. This will not change until 2021.

The back payments were agreed by DWP after it lost a high court case in May, with the court ruling that the government’s arrangements for those who previously received SDP and moved onto universal credit before 16 January 2019 were unlawful.

The new regulations will also allow a pilot project to begin in Harrogate to test how DWP moves claimants from legacy benefits such as employment and support allowance onto universal credit, through a process known as “managed migration”, the beginning of the final, lengthy stage of the delayed universal credit rollout.

But there was criticism of Rudd by both Labour and SNP MPs after the government backed down on its previous promise that there would be a debate and a vote on the new regulations.

Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said this was an “absolute disgrace”.

These developments followed yet another damaging court judgment on DWP’s disability benefits assessment system.

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that more people with mental distress who have problems with social situations will now receive PIP.

And it raises the likelihood of an eighth costly trawl through the records of disabled people unfairly deprived of benefits following years of serious errors by senior DWP civil servants, following seven others launched last year.

On Tuesday this week, the disabled people’s minister, Justin Tomlinson, said he was unable to say how many more people with mental distress would now be entitled to more support.

He said: “We must consider the detail of the judgment and how it needs to be implemented before we can estimate how many people will be affected, but we will look back at cases.” 

Also this week, a work and pensions committee report warned that none of the DWP staff working on the “baffling” universal credit were able to tell claimants if moving onto the new system would leave them better or worse off.

The committee said benefit claimants were being trapped in the DWP “lobster pot”, “struggling with a sudden drop in income” while DWP refused to allow them to return to the “legacy benefits” they were previously claiming.

The report said claimants forced to move onto universal credit through the so-called “natural migration” process were “in many cases seeing their income drop” and – because of the five-week wait for their first payment and the need to repay any advance payment they applied for – were facing the “impossible choice between hardship now or hardship later”.

25 July 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:22
Jul 182019
 

DWP ‘lies again’ about impact of benefits freeze on disabled people

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of a “brazen repetition of a known lie” about the impact on disabled people of one of the government’s major spending cuts, following the publication of a damning new report.

The report by the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) found that social security reforms over the last decade – mostly under successive Tory-led governments – had hit disabled adults four times harder than non-disabled adults.

It found that disabled people had lost out by an average of about £1,200 a year, compared to an average of about £300 for non-disabled people.

The report, Has Welfare Become Unfair?, shows that the higher a person’s support needs, the more they have lost out, with someone with six or more impairments losing over £2,100 a year on average, compared to someone with one impairment losing about £700 each year.

But when DWP was asked to comment on the report’s conclusions, it claimed that “disability benefits are exempt from the benefit freeze”.

This is not true, which has been repeatedly pointed out to ministers and DWP press officers over the last three years.

In March, the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, failed to apologise after telling the Commons work and pensions committee that “disability benefits were exempt from the benefits freeze”.

In June 2018, his predecessor, Sarah Newton, made the same claim in a Commons debate.

This apparently deliberate attempt to mislead the public about the working-age benefits freeze dates to its introduction in 2016 by the then chancellor, George Osborne.

Disability living allowance, personal independence payment and the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group top-up are all exempt from the benefits freeze, which has frozen most working-age benefits at the level they were at in 2015.

But there is no exemption for the main component of ESA or the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG), which continue to be frozen.

This means that every disabled person receiving ESA, the main out-of-work disability benefit – and its equivalent under universal credit – has been and will continue to be hit financially by the freeze, including by its impact on non-disability-related benefits.

Although DWP could argue that the main ESA component is set at the same level as the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance, the WRAG top-up is only available to people with impairments that affect their ability to work.

Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The DWP’s brazen repetition of a known lie shows they believe they are immune from being held to account.

I urge everyone reading this to sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition for an independent inquiry into the DWP, not just for the people who have died but for all who have suffered hardship and distress in dealing with the DWP. Let’s hold them to account.”

The petition* calls for an independent inquiry into links between DWP and the deaths of benefit claimants, and was launched following the death in February 2017 of Jodey Whiting, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

The Independent Case Examiner concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case.

The DBC report says the benefit freeze “has been a major factor in reducing the incomes of disabled people and pushing them into poverty”.

And comments this week by both contenders for the Tory party leadership, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, suggest the freeze might not end next year as previously planned.

Asked to comment on the department’s comment about the benefits freeze, a DWP spokesperson said: “On the DBC report, you have our statement and of course you are free to write up the story as you see fit.”

The government has previously suggested that the main ESA element and the WRAG top-up** are included in the benefits freeze because they are “a work-related benefit”, rather than a disability benefit, even though they are benefits paid to disabled people.

There was further misleading information in the DWP response to the DBC report, with the department claiming that “in many cases our reforms mean people will receive more money on average, with one million households gaining an average of £100 more on Universal Credit”.

The department’s own equality impact assessment and the Office for Budget Responsibility have both made it clear that there would be both winners and losers from universal credit.

But the DWP spokesperson claimed that – even though it had provided figures for those gaining from UC – the department did not publish figures showing how many million households would lose out through UC and by how much on average.

The report by DBC – whose members include Inclusion London, Disability Rights UK and Transport for All – warns that when disabled people move onto universal credit there will be “dramatic increases in the levels of poverty among people who are already at a crisis point”.

The report says this is a “disaster waiting to happen”.

The report, funded by The Three Guineas Trust, concludes that changes to the social security system since 2010 have had a “devastating impact” on disabled people’s wellbeing and right to independent living.

The report, which makes 22 recommendations for government action, concludes that people claiming disability benefits “are leading precarious lives characterised by financial insecurity, with immediate and enduring worries over money, bills and what the future may hold”.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

**New claimants placed in the WRAG after starting their claim from April 2017 onwards no longer receive the top-up

18 July 2019

 

 

Rail regulator’s access recommendations welcomed, ‘but do not go far enough’

Accessible transport campaigners have broadly welcomed a series of recommendations for improvements to the accessibility of the rail system.

Among the 17 recommendations made by the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), is a call for a drastic reduction in the notice that disabled passengers need to provide to book assistance for a rail journey.

If ORR’s recommendations are accepted, the current maximum of 24 hours’ notice will be cut by April next year to 10pm the day before travel, with further reductions introduced until only two hours’ notice will be needed by April 2022.

ORR also wants to see the government review funding for accessibility improvements, currently delivered through the Access for All fund, warning that current levels of investment “may fall short of the improvements to accessibility in rail aspired to in the government’s Inclusive Transport Strategy”.

And it wants to see, within the next six years, a review of the standards for accessibility of rail vehicles.

ORR is also calling for significant improvements to the reliability of assistance, and to staff training, as well as a requirement that compensation is paid to disabled passengers when their booked assistance fails because of a train or station operator’s actions.

Only last week, Disability News Service reported that two-thirds of disabled passengers experience at least one problem when travelling by rail, according to research commissioned by the government.

The ORR report says that only three-quarters (76 per cent) of users received all the assistance they booked in advance in 2018-19, while one in 10 (11 per cent) received none of it.

ORR also wants to see the same branding for assistance introduced across the network of rail companies, and improvements to the quality of access information provided to disabled passengers.

In the longer term, ORR wants to see a new system that will allow passengers to buy tickets and book assistance at the same time, and a “coherent national strategy” to promote assisted travel.

ORR made the recommendations as part of its submission to the Williams Rail Review, a “root and branch review” of Britain’s railway system.

The review’s findings and recommendations will be published in a government white paper in the autumn.

Alan Benson, chair of Transport for All, the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London, “broadly” welcomed the ORR’s recommendations.

He said: “Everyone, including government and the industry, agrees that the current situation on Britain’s railway is simply not good enough.

For decades, disabled people have been pushing for change. This response to the Williams review shows that the ORR has been listening and it should be broadly welcomed.

There are many common-sense steps, such as compensation for failed assistance and better training, which could really overhaul the service that we receive.

Being able to buy tickets and arrange assistance at the same time has the potential to really make a difference, providing the process is easy and convenient.”

But Benson said TfA believed the recommendations did not go far enough.

He said: “Putting consistent branding on an assistance service won’t prevent the let downs that are all too common and the ORR is still not advocating our right to turn up and travel just like everyone else.

Even the reduction in notice from 24 hours to two hours is not proposed until 2022. This is simply not good enough.

The direction of travel in this report is good, but the industry needs to show even more aspiration.

We hope that the Williams review will be bold in its recommendations and lead to disabled people having truly equal access when using the UK rail network.”

Accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley also broadly welcomed ORR’s recommendations.

He said he particularly welcomed ORR’s “new” and “important” challenge to the government’s “miserly and woefully inadequate funding” for improving access.

But he said he did not believe that the shortened timescales for pre-booking assistance would have much impact because making such bookings often failed to produce the assistance requested, while it “misses the point that we should be able to ‘turn up and go’ like anybody else”.

He said much of the ORR report was “rehashed” from what the industry or ORR had already made clear, adding: “We know access information is lamentably inaccurate and the database for administering it is utterly broken.

We know that assisted travel reliability is poor and must be improved.

We know that a national framework for promoting Passenger Assist should be in place, but only once they’ve got a reliable system that works, otherwise they’re setting new disabled travellers up for a fall.”

Paulley said ORR’s recommendations for the review were important, but its delayed new guidance for train operating companies, expected in the autumn following a consultation, “will have a much more direct impact on disabled passengers’ experience than their input into the Williams review, though of course it is positive that they have responded to the review as well”.

The ORR proposals were welcomed by Keith Williams, the review’s chair and a former chief executive of British Airways.

18 July 2019

 

 

DWP decision to block DNS jobcentre invite is ‘extension of hostile environment’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of an “appalling” attack on press freedom and disabled people’s rights after blocking a request by Disability News Service (DNS) to interview staff in one of its jobcentres.

A leaked memo in May revealed that DWP was inviting journalists from across the country into jobcentres to try to persuade them to paint a more positive picture of its new universal credit (UC) benefit system.

The memo revealed the department’s “frustration” at the negative media portrayal of its work, particularly around coverage of UC, as well as its plans to run a series of misleading adverts in the Metro free newspaper that would “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC”.

The memo spoke of “negativity and scaremongering” by journalists and said that work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd had written to “a wide range of journalists at regional and national publications, asking them to come and see for themselves the great work we do”.

Many of the articles that resulted, particularly those that have appeared in local newspapers owned by Reach, the largest national and regional news publisher in the UK, were criticised by disabled activists for allowing jobcentre staff to praise the local impact of universal credit and to either dismiss or ignore its well-publicised flaws.

Following the release of the memo, and the string of positive articles that followed, DNS asked DWP’s press office to arrange a visit to a local jobcentre.

This would have allowed DNS to interview frontline civil servants about UC, as well as the much-criticised work capability assessment, links between DWP failings and the deaths of benefit claimants*, and efforts by jobcentre staff to support disabled people into work.

But now, more than a month after the request was submitted, DWP has turned down the DNS request.

A spokesperson said: “Unfortunately we won’t be able to accommodate your request for a jobcentre visit at this stage.

Visits from journalists are time intensive for our jobcentre staff and we’ve therefore focused on hosting visits for newspapers only at this time.

We hope to open up jobcentre visits to online only outlets** in the future.”

Natasha Hirst, the disabled members’ representative on the national executive council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ)***, said DWP’s decision risked “compounding the lack of trust in their ‘mythbuster’ PR campaign if they obstruct access to journalists who have been critical of their policies in the past.

NUJ members abide by a code of conduct to report ethically and accurately and it is vital to a well-functioning democracy that journalists are able to scrutinise the workings of government institutions.”

She added: “If the DWP are confident enough that their policies and practices are improving people’s lives, then providing access to DNS would lend an opportunity to showcase good work and reach directly to their target audience.

Otherwise, this looks like an effort to impede press freedom.”

A spokesperson for Sheffield Disabled People Against Cuts, the grassroots group which obtained the leaked memo, said: “Once again the DWP are moving the goalposts in order to spin their lies and keep disabled people in the dark about what is happening with universal credit; this time it’s journalists on the receiving end.

Disabled people very often have difficulty getting access to print editions of newspapers so rely on online news sources such as DNS for reports about universal credit that we have a right to access.

We think that the DWP may once again be breaching the rights of disabled people by denying DNS and other similar platforms access to jobcentres.

This is quite simply an extension of the hostile environment towards disabled people.”

A spokesperson for Disabled People Against Cuts added: “To say that we were shocked that DNS were denied access would be a lie – it’s exactly what we would expect from an organisation that distorts the truth so routinely that they were never likely to allow a disabled journalist anywhere where they might ask inconvenient questions of jobcentre staff.”

One well-known disabled activist, who tweets as @imajsaclaimant, said it was an “appalling” decision from DWP, which clearly only wanted to allow journalists to visit its jobcentres if they were “from publications that will give them an article that paints DWP in a positive light”.

He said DWP was “attempting to very tightly control the narrative” and the refusal to allow DNS to question jobcentre staff “reinforces what we’ve always known about DWP, that they are a terrible organisation that treats everyone with contempt.

By denying journalists who are critical they are preventing accountability, which is what this government has avoided again and again.”

DWP is already facing an investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority into what critics say are the misleading adverts about UC that are appearing in the Metro.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned about the impact on disabled people of UC – which combines six income-related benefits into one – and say it is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of foodbank use.

Earlier this month, DNS revealed that DWP had admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how UC would affect different groups of disabled people.

Meanwhile, the DWP spokesperson also appeared to admit this week that its press office had been making a deliberate decision not to send press releases to DNS.

When asked why DWP had stopped sending its releases to DNS, she said the press office usually sends them to journalists “on a case-by-case basis”.

She said DWP press releases can also be found on the government website, but she added: “I have noted your request to receive our press releases, and I will send on those that we think you will find of interest.”

**Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here if you would like to see a debate in the House of Commons on calls for an independent inquiry into links between DWP and the deaths of benefit claimants. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

**DNS is a news agency, not an “online only outlet”

***John Pring, editor of DNS, is an NUJ member

18 July 2019

 

 

More than half of disabled passengers still find air travel difficult, says regulator

More than half of passengers who describe themselves as having an impairment that limits their day-today activity find travelling by air difficult, according to a regulator’s annual report on access at the UK’s major airports.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) annual report on disability access contains mixed findings on provision for disabled travellers at the UK’s largest 31 airports.

Although no airports were rated as “poor” in the regulator’s fourth annual report – the first time this has happened – the number of those rated as “very good” on access fell from 16 last year to 14 in 2018-19.

Of the 31 airports assessed by CAA, 16 were categorized as “good”, an increase of six on 2017-18, and only one was said to need improvement.

During 2018-19, there were 3.7 million requests for assistance at UK airports, a rise of over 80 per cent since 2010. 

But CAA’s latest aviation consumer survey found nearly a quarter of respondents who requested assistance said they did so because the airport environment was becoming more difficult to get around.

And more than half of disabled people surveyed said they found travelling by air difficult, with concerns about poor customer service, long waiting times and a lack of awareness of disabled people’s needs.

It is the second report this month to highlight the continuing barriers faced by disabled travellers.

Last week, Disability News Service reported research commissioned by the government which found two-thirds of disabled passengers said they experienced at least one problem when travelling by rail.

Disabled passengers are entitled to free assistance when travelling by air under European Union regulations, and CAA is the regulatory body that monitors the quality of this assistance.

A key CAA concern is that airports are not increasing staffing levels enough at peak times, causing increased delays for those disabled passengers who need assistance.

The report also says that only two airports with more than nine million passengers a year – Glasgow and Edinburgh – have been rated as “very good” on access.

The others – London Stansted, London Luton, London Heathrow and London Gatwick – are all rated as “good”.

But the report warns that Heathrow could be at risk of losing its “good” rating, if it does not do more to increase staffing levels, particularly for assistance for passengers on flights arriving at the airport.

The report also stresses the importance of ongoing consultation with local disabled people’s groups, and it warns that new CAA guidance “will require airports to hold regular disability forums” and that airports “who do not have these in place may receive a poor rating in future reports”.

This new guidance will mean airports will now be assessed using stricter targets

The report also says CAA has continuing concerns over the services and facilities provided by Manchester Airport, which is nearly two-thirds owned by Greater Manchester’s 10 local authorities.

Although the airport improved on its rating of “poor” last year, the CAA report says it still “needs improvement” and warns that events since the end of 2018-19 have “stalled” its progress.

In April, Manchester Airport began using a new provider of assistance services, and the report says: “Data from April, May and June 2019 has shown performance was poor, with high numbers of passengers waiting for unacceptable lengths of time to receive assistance when arriving on inbound flights.”

Meanwhile, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has launched a consultation on new plans that it hopes will help people with long-term conditions who struggle to find affordable travel insurance.

It wants to introduce a new “signposting” rule, which would force insurance firms in certain circumstances to provide consumers with a pre-existing medical condition (PEMC) details of travel insurance firms that “have the appetite and capability” to provide them with cover. 

FCA said that “nearly all consumers with a PEMC can get cover if they are able to find the right provider”.

An estimated 14 million travellers with a PEMC try to find travel insurance every year.

Of these, about 0.7 per cent are declined cover and 11 per cent buy a policy that excludes cover for their condition.

Christopher Woolard, FCA’s executive director of strategy and competition, said: “We want to reduce the numbers of consumers who are currently faced with a choice of not travelling or travelling without insurance, and running the risk of incurring significant costs, including medical bills abroad.

The changes proposed today will be an important step in helping people to navigate the market more easily and also in reducing the number of customers who are over-paying significantly for travel insurance.”

18 July 2019

 

Second charity backs Justice for Jodey following snub by 12 disability organisations

A second national disability charity has joined Mind in backing a petition that calls for an independent inquiry into links between Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failings and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) and Mind are the only two major charities to have supported the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, in contrast with others such as RNIB, Leonard Cheshire, Sense and Scope, which have refused to back its demands.

The petition calls for an inquiry and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants and ministers to be passed to police.

It also calls on MPs to brand DWP institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for the department to take urgent steps to make the safety of benefit claimants a priority.

Earlier this month, 12 disability charities – none of which are led and controlled by disabled people – rejected a request from Disability News Service (DNS) to back the petition.

Only Mind agreed to back the petition and its four demands.

But now DR UK, which is run and controlled by disabled people and works with many of the charities as a member of the Disability Benefits Consortium, has said it supports the petition and all its demands.

Jodey Whiting died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

The Independent Case Examiner concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case.

Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said DWP’s failure to follow its own procedures in the case of Jodey Whiting “highlights the need of a root and branch change to our system of social protection for disabled people in this country”.

He said this system should “meet the needs of disabled people and provide safety and support in the way it is administrated”.

Mallick said an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions “would create the opportunity to gather robust evidence on the way the benefits system is administrated and how it impacts on people who need to use it”.

He said: “It could also be used to make recommendations for structural changes to the way the system operates now.”

And he said that any evidence of misconduct that led to serious harm or death “should be examined by the police to see if a criminal prosecution is appropriate”.

He added: “There’s a growing evidence base that the DWP is struggling to provide the services required.

It’s been the subject of a series of very critical reports from select committees, for example, as well as other independent organisations such as Demos.

There have been well documented problems with employment and support allowance, the changeover from disability living allowance to personal independence payments and of course universal credit.

Transferring current responsibilities to different organisations, whether statutory or otherwise, could help solve the problem.

But we must make sure there is a fundamental change in approach – without that, disabled people’s experiences are unlikely to improve much.”  

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

18 July 2019

 

 

New ‘radical history’ of disabled people’s movement ‘has lessons for today’

A new “radical history” of the disabled people’s movement is set to throw new light on the contribution made by one of its most influential figures.

The launch of No Limits: The Disabled People’s Movement, A Radical History, took place last Friday (12 July), and was attended by its author, Judy Hunt, on the 40th anniversary of the death of her husband, Paul.

It was Paul Hunt’s letter to the Guardian in 1972 which led to the formation of the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS), which itself was to play a crucial role in the development of the movement and what was later known as the social model of disability.

Hunt had originally lived in the Leonard Cheshire residential home Le Court, in Hampshire, where he and other residents rebelled repeatedly against the regime, before he left to marry Judy in 1970.

In the Guardian letter, he wrote of how disabled people with high support needs were forced into “isolated unsuitable institutions where their views are ignored and they are subject to authoritarian and often cruel regimes”.

He proposed a new “consumer group” that would “put forward nationally the views of actual and potential residents of these successors to the Workhouse”.

No Limits tells how a series of “historic conflicts” between disabled people – including Paul Hunt – and service-providers in the 1960s laid “important groundwork for the emergence of a widespread social movement to end the segregation and second class citizenship of disabled people”.

It describes how the development of a social model of disability – including the key roles played by Hunt and fellow UPIAS founder Vic Finkelstein – led to a “heightened determination by disabled people to achieve emancipation from the oppressive social conditions in the UK”.

The book also describes how institutions began to be replaced with independent living settings, and it follows the evolution of the disabled people’s movement from the 1950s to the present day.

It also aims to “contribute to the ongoing struggle disabled people now face to maintain some control of their lives” after years of austerity have “battered many of the gains made through past campaigns”.

At the launch event in London last week, Judy Hunt said: “I hope the book will show how in the beginning when people were very oppressed, very cut off from society, that despite that, some people managed to find a way to struggle back, and they developed something powerful through the power of collective action which was terribly important.

I’m hoping that by drawing on the lessons of before it may still provide some hope for people, some ideas they can build on.”

She said that her husband had been “an amazing and a lovely person” who was “looked to by many for his very caring support and his guidance” and had “worked tirelessly and like there was no tomorrow, literally”.

She said: “He had been given a very short life expectancy when he was young. He lived that life of urgency all his life.”

She spoke of how her husband edited a book of essays by disabled people – Stigma: The Experience Of Disability – which was published in 1966, but is now out of print.

In his contribution to Stigma, he wrote about how disabled people were an oppressed minority, which she said was “the first time really that that word was used in the context of disability”.

She said: “It was like he lobbed a very weighty stone into the pond and it set off ripples which kept getting bigger and bigger.”

An archive of UPIAS material has been deposited by Judy Hunt in Manchester Central Library, alongside other historic documents that cast light on the birth, growth and impact of the movement, which have been collated by Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP).

Sian Vasey, a member of UPIAS in the 1970s, told the launch event that Judy Hunt’s book was “very important”, with its discussion of the “extraordinary revolution” of viewing disabled people as an oppressed minority.

She said that disabled people were still oppressed today, for example through the “really scary” dismantling of support systems, such as the cuts to care packages.

The disabled crossbench peer and independent living campaigner Baroness [Jane] Campbell told the launch that disabled people still faced oppression today, nearly 50 years after the formation of UPIAS.

Asked whether disabled people were still oppressed, she said: “Yes, I think we are, as women are, as black people are. I don’t see any difference.”

She spoke of how reading Paul Hunt’s letter to the Guardian, years later, as a young disabled woman, led her to contact the Spinal Injuries Association and then to attend the second annual meeting of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP).

It was at this conference in the early 1980s that she heard disabled activists Mike Oliver and Ken Davis talk about the social model of disability and the concept of independent living.

She remembers “feeling goose bumps all over my body” as “suddenly everything just fell into place”.

She told last week’s launch event: “If I hadn’t read that letter and I hadn’t phoned the Spinal Injuries Association, I would probably not have gone down the road that I did.

That is why today is so, so important to me.

Paul, even though I never knew him, was probably one of the most important men in my life, which is a very strange thing to say about someone you never knew.”

She told DNS afterwards that disabled people are still an oppressed group, but that she “would never say we are more oppressed than other groups that have had very similar struggles to stay alive and be treated equally”.

She said: “Becoming liberated through understanding the nature of their oppression is one of the most important things a disabled person can do.”

She said she had struggled more trying to be “normal” and fit in to a “normal world” than she ever did after she was liberated.

She added: “It is a huge relief to understand the true nature of my oppression and to understand the way to fight against it, and eventually abandon it.”

Free copies of the book in pdf format are available through the GMCDP website, with other formats available soon. To order a paperback version at £19.99, email: huntlimits40@gmail.com

18 July 2019

 

 

Hancock confronted over hospital parking charges for disabled patients

The health secretary has been confronted by a campaigner after government figures revealed the number of hospitals charging disabled people to use their carparks rose by 12 per cent in just a year.

Kush Kanodia, a disabled ambassador for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), said NHS trusts that charged disabled patients to use their carparks were guilty of direct discrimination under the Equality Act.

He asked Hancock: “What are we to do when the people we trust to deliver our healthcare fail to show compassion or inclusion?”

But he said neither Hancock nor NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens responded to his request for support for his campaign to end the charges at hospitals in England, which he launched last week with support from DR UK.

Devolved governments in both Scotland and Wales have scrapped all hospital parking charges, not just those for disabled patients.

Kanodia raised his concerns at The King’s Fund’s annual leadership and management summit.

He launched the campaign last week after accusing executives of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust – where he is a patient governor – of “disgraceful” behaviour by deciding to introduce parking charges for patients with blue badges at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) this week declined to condemn those trusts that have introduced charges, saying only that it believed NHS trusts should offer “concessions” to disabled people using their carparks.

NHS Digital figures show that the number of hospitals that charge disabled people to park rose from 132 in 2014-15 to 155 in 2017-18, an increase of 17 per cent in just three years.

The largest increase came in the last year, with an increase of 12 per cent from 139 hospitals in 2016-17 to 155 in 2017-18.

Hancock’s predecessor, Tory leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt, had pledged to tackle the problem in August 2014.

Hunt said then that concessions should be available for disabled people.

But in a post on his own website, Hunt says the government is “firmly committed to reducing central interference in matters that can only be understood locally, and setting car parking charges falls into this category”.

A DHSC spokesperson declined to say if the department was in favour of scrapping all parking charges for disabled people, or if Hancock was concerned about the rising number of trusts that impose such charges.

But he said in a statement: “Patients and their families should not have to deal with the extra stress of complex or unfair parking charges.

Our guidelines make clear that concessions should be offered, including for disabled parking, and we expect trusts to be following these. 

We will continue to work with the NHS to ensure these principles are applied consistently to end variation and put the interests of patients first.”

A spokesperson for Chelsea and Westminster Hospital said its charges would be capped at £3 per vehicle and no decision had yet been made on when they would be introduced.

She said: “This still represents a significant concession compared to all other users of the car park. Where there is evidence of poverty then there will be no charge.

This was a very difficult decision to make in a challenging financial climate.

We intend to use the income generated to reinvest in facilities and clinical resources for our disabled patients, including plans to increase the number of disabled parking spaces.

If we don’t make any charge for disabled parking we will have to find an additional £200,000 every year.”

She denied that the trust would be breaching the Equality Act by introducing the new charge.

18 July 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:14
Jul 112019
 

 

Secret PIP files show one in three assessments by Capita had significant flaws

More than a third of disability assessment reports completed by a government contractor have been found to be significantly flawed, according to secret government files.

The proportion of substandard personal independence payment (PIP) reports completed by outsourcing giant Capita has risen to 37 per cent in the two years since 2016, when nearly 33 per cent of reports were found to be defective.

The figures, secured from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) under the Freedom of Information Act by campaigner John Slater, are likely to add fuel to concerns about Capita’s performance in delivering the contract.

And they are also likely to strengthen calls for DWP to be declared “not fit for purpose” and institutionally disablist, as demanded by the Justice for Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition*.

The figures show the results of government audits of nearly 6,000 assessment reports carried out by Capita during 2018.

They show that nearly four per cent of the reports (3.92 per cent) were of such poor quality that they were categorised as “unacceptable”.

With another 17 per cent of assessments, DWP concluded the report was so flawed that there was “learning required” by the healthcare professional who wrote it, although the report was of an “acceptable” standard.

And in a further 16 per cent of cases, the report needed to be amended because of even more serious flaws, although again the report was still said to be of an “acceptable” standard.

In all, nearly 37 per cent of assessment reports audited during 2018 were found to be of an unacceptable standard, to need changes, or demonstrated that the assessor had failed to carry out their role properly.

The newly-released data provides details of the “management information” (MI) that Capita and fellow outsourcing giant Atos are contractually obliged to provide every month to DWP, so it can check on their performance and take action when they need to improve.

It was obtained as part of Slater’s continuing efforts to secure information from DWP that he believes will expose the widespread failings of Capita and Atos, and DWP’s failure to manage the contracts properly.

He is still appealing against DWP’s failure to release data showing the results of audits of Atos assessment reports.

The data that was released raises continuing and multiple concerns about the way the two private sector companies are carrying out their contractual duties.

It also shows that the many reports of dishonest and distressing assessment experiences by individual disabled people are not isolated occurrences.

One of the concerns highlighted by the data is the proportion of assessments cleared by Capita within 40 days, which nearly fell as low as 50 per cent at one stage during 2018.

Another concern is over the number of Atos and Capita healthcare professionals who have been the subject of multiple complaints within a three-month period.

Last year, DNS revealed that 161 assessors working for Atos and 19 Capita assessors had had at least four complaints made against them in a three-month period in 2016.

But the figures for 2018 show that, although the number of Atos assessors who faced multiple complaints fell from 161 to 129, the number of Capita assessors who were subjected to at least four complaints in just three months leapt from 19 to 84 between 2016 and 2018.

Capita carried out about 220,000 face-to-face assessments in 2018, compared with more than 730,000 by Atos.

Another key concern is that Capita is still requesting vital further evidence from GPs and social workers in less than 30 per cent of assessments.

This is an improvement on the figures from 2016, when at one stage, in June and July 2016, Capita was seeking further information from GPs, consultants or social workers in fewer than one in every 50 PIP claims (less than two per cent of cases).

But DWP documents drawn up in May 2012, before the award of the contracts to deliver PIP assessments, show the department expected its contractors would need to request further evidence (also known as further medical evidence) in about half of all cases (50 per cent).

A Capita spokesperson refused to say if the data obtained by Slater showed there were still serious concerns about its performance, and that this was deteriorating.

She also refused to comment on the audit results, or explain why they had worsened in the last two years.

And she refused to explain why so many assessors had been subjected to multiple complaints within a three-month period, and why that number had increased so sharply in the last two years.

But she said in a statement: “Capita is the first PIP provider to consistently meet the ambitious quality targets set by the DWP and we are committed to continually delivering against this target. On average, cases are completed within 38 days.

We are focused on delivering the best service to individuals coming through the assessment process.

This is evidenced in our independent monthly satisfaction rating from customers, which in 2018 was more than 95 per cent.”

An Atos** spokesperson refused to comment on the number of its assessors subject to multiple complaints.

But he said in a statement: “As part of our commitment to provide a high quality service we have invested in our continuous professional development training for all health professionals.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if the figures showed there were still serious concerns about its management of the PIP contracts and the performance of the two companies.

She also refused to say if DWP was concerned by the Capita audit results and the number of Atos and Capita assessors subjected to multiple complaints within three-month periods.

She refused to say why DWP had not released the Atos audit results to John Slater.

And she refused to say if DWP had taken any action to address these concerns.

But she said in a statement: “We are committed to ensuring that the PIP assessment providers give our claimants the highest quality service.

That’s why we set the providers challenging targets and monitor their performance closely, and the latest figures show that complaints make up just one per cent of all the assessments carried out.”

Meanwhile, work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd today (Thursday) announced an in-depth review of how terminally-ill people and those with “severe conditions” are treated by the benefits system.

The announcement came days after a report compiled by the charity Marie Curie and published by the all party parliamentary group for terminal illness saw people with terminal illness calling on ministers to end the “arbitrary and outdated” rules that force many of them through a “demeaning” and “insensitive” benefit assessment process.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

**Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK

11 July 2019

 

 

New EU figures demolish government claims of ‘world-leading generosity’ on disability

New figures obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) have demolished ministerial claims that the UK is one of the most generous countries in the world in its support for disabled people.

Rather than being one of the most generous, the UK’s spending on disability is actually below average for the 28 member states in the European Union (EU).

The figures also show that the proportion of the UK’s economic activity (GDP) spent by the UK government on disabled people fell from 2.6 per cent in 2015 to 2.5 per cent in 2016 and 2017.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its ministers have repeatedly defended themselves against criticisms of government cuts to disabled people’s support over the last decade by attempting to argue that the UK’s spending levels compare favourably with other countries.

When the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government in 2017 that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” – and recommended more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affected disability rights – it responded by stressing how much it spent supporting disabled people and how well that compared with other major economies.

But the new figures show the UK is only the 12th most generous country in the EU, when its disability spending is taken as a proportion of GDP.

Last month, DNS reported figures for 2015 which showed the UK’s spending was only 23rd highest of the 36 major world economies in the OECD* as a proportion of GDP.

But DNS has now obtained figures for 2016 and 2017 from Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, which bases its statistics on data provided by the UK and other EU governments, and which is the organisation that OECD uses to produce its figures for EU countries.

The Eurostat figures show the UK was only the 12th most generous spender in the EU in 2015, 2016 and 2017, behind Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden, Germany, France, Luxembourg and even Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary, if disability spending is taken as a proportion of a country’s GDP.

The figures show spending on sickness and disability, which for the UK includes benefits like personal independence payment and employment and support allowance, as well as spending on social care and other social protection for disabled people.

The claim that the UK is one of the world’s most generous countries when it comes to disability has been used repeatedly by work and pensions ministers such as Iain Duncan Smith, who claimed in 2014 that “[we] probably spend more than almost any other country in the developed world” and “nearly double what Germany spends”.

Esther McVey made similar claims when she was minister for disabled people, and again last month when she was running – unsuccessfully – to be the next prime minister.

Ministers have also repeatedly claimed that the UK spends more on disability than France, one of the seven major economies that make up the G7, and DWP repeated that claim yesterday (Wednesday).

The Eurostat figures also demolish those claims, as they show that Frances spends about 2.9 per cent of its GDP on sickness and disability, compared to 2.5 per cent in the UK.

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if the minister for disabled people now accepted that the UK spends below the average for the 28 EU countries on disability and is not even one of the most generous countries in the EU, let alone the world.

Instead she said in a statement: “We’re spending £55 billion this year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions, more than ever before.

And as a share of GDP, the UK’s public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany.”**

*OECD is an organisation of 36 countries, all of which are major world economies

**The Eurostat figures show the UK also spends less than France

11 July 2019

 

 

Ministerial group on disability met just three times in a year, DWP admits

A cross-government group of ministers set up to drive forward action to tackle the barriers faced by disabled people has met just three times in more than a year, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted.

The group of 11 ministers, chaired by work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, was set up in May 2018.

It was set up following a period of nearly four years when there was no cross-departmental group of ministers working to improve the lives of disabled people.

But now a response from DWP to a freedom of information request by Disability News Service (DNS) has revealed that the new Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society met just three times between May 2018 and June 2019.

The group of ministers met first on 7 July 2018, and again on 31 October 2018, and then did not meet again until 25 March this year, nearly five months later.

Only last month, prime minister Theresa May – supported by non-user-led charities like Scope and Sense – announced what she said were “new measures to break down barriers faced by disabled people, whether in employment, housing or elsewhere”.

Rudd said at the time that disabled people “encounter too many challenges in life” and the government wanted to “change the landscape for disabled people and to make sure there is always a level playing field for them”.

But many user-led organisations questioned why May had left it until the last days of her time in office to launch what she said was a “new drive to tackle barriers faced by disabled people”.

The admission that the inter-ministerial group set up by May’s government last year, under Rudd’s leadership, has met just three times in more than a year will cast further doubt on what the prime minister claimed was her “determination to identify and tackle injustices”.

DWP has so far refused to say which ministers attended each meeting, even though similar information was eventually released following a complaint to the information commissioner about the actions of the previous inter-ministerial group, which met just three times in 2014 before it was scrapped.

A DWP spokesperson declined to say why the inter-ministerial group had only met three times in more than a year.

But she said in a statement: “Empowering disabled people in all aspects of their lives has always been and will continue to be a priority for this government.

That is why the Office for Disability Issues continues to drive forward work to increase disabled people’s participation in society, including through the Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society, which is just one of the many ways in which we’re driving progress on the issues that matter to disabled people.”

11 July 2019

 

 

DWP’s ‘universal credit Metro lies’ backfire by sparking new campaign network

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advertising campaign that is now being investigated by a watchdog has backfired by helping to create a national network of campaigners opposed to its new universal credit benefit system, say disabled activists.

The advertising watchdog this week launched an investigation into what critics say are “misleading” DWP adverts that have attempted to “whitewash” the truth about universal credit (UC).

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that UC – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of foodbank use, and repeated warnings about its impact on disabled people.

The Sheffield branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said it was “encouraged” to hear that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had confirmed it was investigating concerns about the DWP adverts, which appear every week in the Metro free newspaper.

But Sheffield DPAC said there were now hundreds of activists around the country who were “actively dumping the Metro newspaper”, and praised a Labour city councillor in Sheffield, Francyne Johnson, who supported the campaign yesterday (Wednesday).

Sheffield DPAC claimed that hundreds of thousands of copies of the free newspaper have been removed from distribution points around the country and sent for recycling.

It was Sheffield DPAC which first raised the alarm about DWP’s plans to launch a nine-week series of advertising features in the Metro.

Senior DWP civil servants had said in an internal memo, first leaked to the Guardian and then to Disability News Service (DNS), that the adverts would “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC” and “explain what UC is and how it works in reality”.

A Sheffield DPAC spokesperson said transport workers were now alerting activists to let them know when and where Metros were being delivered so they could be removed and recycled.

She said: “The campaign has grown from a small protest in Sheffield to a well coordinated and incredibly effective national campaign that has seen hundreds of thousands of copies of the Metro now removed from stands and sent for recycling in just a matter of weeks. 

Initially we were removing them by hand, which was exhausting. Now we’ve got hired vans and large numbers of people removing huge amounts relatively effortlessly. 

Although we’re obviously very angry and upset that these ads are still appearing (they were in Metro today) we’re confident that we can now achieve more and reach farther than ever before as we have such excellent communication between a huge number of unions and groups now, thanks to this campaign. 

The DWP, through releasing this propaganda, have unwittingly created a huge national anti universal credit campaign network. That backfired a bit, didn’t it!”

The latest advertorials appeared in the Metro yesterday, even though ASA announced this week that it has launched a formal investigation into the DWP adverts.

ASA said it has received more than 40 complaints about the adverts.

One of the concerns it will investigate is whether some of the adverts were “obviously identifiable as ads”, rather than being disguised as an investigation carried out by the Metro.

Last month, DNS sent ASA an image of the Metro website’s home page which showed a series of images and claims about universal credit which failed to state that they were actually DWP adverts.

The leaked DWP documents revealed that these adverts were always designed to be misleading and not to “look or feel like DWP or UC”.

ASA will also investigate whether three key claims made in the adverts were misleading and if they could be substantiated by DWP.

These claims relate to criticisms of UC that have been made by welfare rights experts, claimants and activists, based on years of evidence, but which DWP has branded as “myths” in its adverts.

A DWP spokesperson claimed that all the advertising contains the words “Advertising Feature from the Department for Work and Pensions”, even though DNS pointed out that the adverts on the Metro website home page had not done so.

She confirmed that ASA had been in touch with the department and that DWP was “working with them to respond to the points raised”.

She said: “It is important people know about the benefits available to them, and we regularly advertise universal credit.”

She added: “We have consulted the Advertising Standards Authority throughout the partnership and our advertorials reflect their advice.”

11 July 2019

 

 

Protests force council climbdown over inaccessible Peterloo memorial

Disabled activists and their allies have forced a council into a significant climbdown over its “discriminatory” plans for a memorial to victims of the Peterloo massacre.

Manchester City Council (MCC) said this week that it had asked artist Jeremy Deller to examine how the memorial he designed can now be made “fully accessible”.

The council-funded memorial was set to be completely inaccessible to many disabled people, even though Deller wanted it to be used as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, mirroring those who spoke during the protest in 1819 that led to the massacre*.

The council had previously told Disability News Service (DNS) that it was unlikely that any “fundamental changes” would be made to the memorial, which is due to be unveiled to the public on 16 August, the 200th anniversary of the massacre.

But there has now been an apparent climbdown following weeks of protests led by disabled activists.

The council’s announcement follows a meeting between city councillors Luthfur Rahman (executive member for skills, culture and leisure) and Tracey Rawlins (lead member for disabled people), and representatives of disabled people’s groups.

Mark Todd, a disabled access expert who started a Facebook page to protest at the design of the memorial – and has called it “a monument to discrimination” – said he was “really pleased” at the council’s apparent change of approach.

He said that the “breadth and determination” of the campaign and the willingness to work with the council appeared to have paid off.

And he said the campaign had built an “amazing coalition” that included disabled people, artists, celebrities, and citizens of Manchester “who all want a Peterloo Memorial that is accessible to everyone”.

Among those who have supported the campaign are the musician and activist Billy Bragg, who said: “Surely something that symbolises the struggle for universal rights should be accessible to all.”

Disabled comedian and activist Francesca Martinez said it was “extraordinary” that the memorial design had not been inclusive, while there has also been criticism from disabled actor-campaigners Cherylee Houston and Ali Briggs.

Briggs said: “We all want a memorial, yes that’s true. We just don’t want one like this, that we can’t be proud of.”

Todd said this week that he was “cautiously optimistic” following the council’s statement, but until there was a “fitting and accessible Peterloo Memorial”, the campaign and a weekly vigil near the site would continue.

He said: “We are not ready to put away our placards just yet.”

Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), which has played a key role in the protests, also welcomed the announcement.

But it warned that the council had not yet met its three demands – to stop work on the memorial while it was still low enough to include a ramp; to ensure the memorial was accessible; and to make sure there was no repeat of the council’s failure with future projects – and pointed out that building work on the inaccessible memorial was now nearly finished.

Campaigners will meet next week with the council, Deller and the architect working on the project, and will then decide whether to review their demands.

A GMCDP spokesperson said: “MCC’s decision to build the memorial to its full height and then explore access solutions afterwards, limits considerably what can be done to make it a platform everyone can use.

We do not know what MCC have in mind, if anything, and we acknowledge that a perfect solution may not be arrived at immediately. 

What is needed most at this stage is the commitment to find a genuine accessible long-term solution, properly considered, fully consulted on and backed up with some teeth and a budget.”

The council has faced weeks of anger from disabled people and allies that a memorial designed to remember those who marched for liberty and equality in the 19th century should apparently have been “designed and built with discrimination and inequality at its heart”.

Now the council has said that it regrets that the design of the memorial “did not give enough consideration to access issues”.

Cllr Rahman said: “Manchester City Council has a long and proud record around access issues, something which disabled access campaigners have acknowledged. 

However, we recognise that the interpretation of the brief for the Peterloo Memorial, with an imaginative design involving a more interactive element than originally envisaged for a public artwork, did not give enough consideration to access issues and we regret this.

We recently met with representatives of disabled people’s groups to further discuss this issue and we have asked the artist and architect to look at how the monument in its current form can be modified to make it fully accessible.

We will share more details about where we are up to and the proposed way forward as soon as we are in a position to do so.

We are listening and doing all we can to resolve this satisfactorily.”

Deller told DNS last night (Wednesday) that he was optimistic that a solution could be found to make the memorial accessible.

*On 16 August 1819, paramilitary and military forces attacked more than 60,000 peaceful, pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters in Manchester, which led to 18 deaths and an estimated 700 serious injuries, in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre

11 July 2019

 

 

UN rapporteur hears of disabled asylum-seekers evicted by social services

A UN human rights expert has been told that disabled asylum-seekers in Bristol have been evicted by social services, and have even been told that being made “street homeless” will make them more independent.

Professor Felipe González, the UN’s special rapporteur for the human rights of migrants, was told that disabled asylum-seekers are routinely denied access to services and support in the UK.

He was in Bristol last week for an unofficial visit organised by the University of Bristol’s Migration Mobilities Bristol research centre.

The centre wanted to tell him about the challenges faced by the UK and Bristol – such as the government’s “hostile environment” for immigrants and the impact of Brexit – and about the centre’s research, and to hear about his UN role.

Among those presenting González with evidence was Rebecca Yeo, a disabled academic, and herself the daughter of a refugee.

She was speaking on behalf of Janet Karanja, a disabled asylum-seeker, who had explained that she was too “pressed down” by the system to give evidence herself.

Yeo told González: “She had planned to talk about her struggle to survive, how at times she’s relied on friends for basic food, how her operation was cancelled just before entering the operating theatre when the hospital had a call from the Home Office.

How she can make no plans because she doesn’t know when or whether, as she puts it, ‘the Home Office will come for you’.

These struggles are common to asylum seekers and have a heavy toll on people’s physical and mental health.”

Karanja had told Yeo that the asylum system “makes you feel you are worthless… like garbage”, she said.

Yeo told the rapporteur that there was now greater recognition of the existence of disabled people in the asylum system, but the “systematic denial” of the rights and needs of all asylum-seekers has increased, which means “the asylum system itself is disabling”.

Yeo also told González that local and national government were breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in their treatment of disabled asylum-seekers, in Bristol and across the country.

She said: “I’m aware of disabled asylum seekers being evicted by social services, made street homeless, with no support, being told that this would make them more independent.”

She also told González that Bristol City Council had excluded disabled people from a task group set up to examine the barriers to accessing social care faced by asylum-seekers, with one councillor explaining: “People with lived experience know about their own lives, but don’t know about how the system works.”

The task group’s members are instead from the council and council-funded organisations.

The group was only set up by the council after a meeting organised by disabled people, including disabled asylum-seekers.

They had called for the meeting with the council and local charities and MPs following protests held last year in the wake of the deaths of two disabled refugees, and showed them a film in which disabled asylum-seekers spoke of the barriers they faced in accessing social care.

Yeo told González that excluding disabled people and their organisations from the task group breached the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and “cuts out a source of expertise”.

The rapporteur was visiting Bristol almost exactly a year after disabled asylum-seekers and activists came together to seek fundamental changes to systems and agencies after the brutal murders of the two disabled refugees.

Both Kamil Ahmad (in July 2016) and Bijan Ebrahimi (in July 2013) were murdered by racist neighbours after being failed by official agencies in the city.

The council was warned there would be a third death in the city unless there was urgent action to address the breaches of disabled asylum-seekers’ rights.

The council has failed so far to provide disabled activists with any information about what the task group has achieved or any minutes from its meetings, despite promising to do so by January this year.

A brief update on the task group’s progress was finally provided to Yeo yesterday (Wednesday), 24 hours after DNS had asked the council to comment on her evidence to the special rapporteur.

A Bristol City Council spokesperson said this morning in a statement: “As a City of Sanctuary our priority is to make Bristol a safe place for all people seeking sanctuary and to create an environment in which they can feel welcomed.

Following the meeting with campaigners last year, a task group of key stakeholders that work with disabled asylum seekers was established to look at how their experience can be improved.

The group is looking at a number of areas including a full audit of asylum related cases, improving education about completing a Care Act Assessment and arranging training sessions for operational staff to hear from disabled asylum seekers about their lived experiences.”

11 July 2019

 

 

Two-thirds of disabled passengers face at least one problem when travelling by rail

Two-thirds of disabled passengers experience at least one problem when travelling by rail, according to research commissioned by the government.

The research was carried out in 2017 but was only published this week when the Department for Transport (DfT) marked a year since the launch of its Inclusive Transport Strategy.

The research, commissioned for DfT by the Transport Focus watchdog, also showed that more than one in five disabled passengers find rail travel difficult.

Many of the more than 1,500 disabled passengers interviewed for the research said they had to plan their journeys in “meticulous detail” to ensure a successful trip.

And not one of the 50 disabled people who took part in in-depth interviews for the research said they were aware that they could use passenger assistance services without booking in advance – if staff are available – through the so-called “turn up and go” service.

Those who used the “passenger assist” service reported frequent failures, including being left on a train at a terminal; not being met at a station when they needed to exit the train; not being met at their departure station; and experiencing “rude and discriminatory” behaviour from staff.

Nearly a third of those surveyed (31 per cent) said they had experienced anti-social or discriminatory behaviour from other passengers.

This week, DfT invited the rail industry to nominate stations across Britain to benefit from a £20 million fund that will pay for small-scale access improvements such as tactile paving, handrails and Harrington Humps, which increase platform heights so passengers with mobility impairments can board trains more easily.

The £20 million was first announced by DfT in April and is part of the £300 million government funding to be spent on access improvements under the Access for All programme between 2019-20 and the end of March 2024.

Nusrat Ghani, the accessibility minister, said: “While many take for granted the ability to travel easily from A to B, access for the fifth of people who identify as disabled can be far from straightforward.

We want disabled people to travel easily, confidently and without extra cost, which is why it is fantastic to be opening this fund today.

I look forward to seeing what ideas the industry has for accessibility improvements as we work towards a more inclusive rail network.”

John Welsman, a guide dog owner and policy lead for travel and mobility at the charity Guide Dogs, said: “Guide Dogs welcomes the additional funding as independent train travel is a real challenge for people living with sight loss.

Elements like tactile paving on platform edges and steps, better signage, improved lighting and colour contrast, will make stations easier to negotiate confidently and more safely.

However, train travel is still a very complex environment for people with sight loss and we will continue to work to find solutions so that no one with sight loss is left out of life.”

The announcement in July 2018 that the government would spend £300 million over five years followed years of funding cuts to Access for All, originally introduced by the last Labour government in 2006.

Disability News Service secured figures last July through a freedom of information request that showed that spending on Access for All had fallen from as much as £81.1 million in 2013-14 to just £14.6 million in 2017-18.

Spending in 2009-10, the last year of the Labour government, was £53.9 million, with £41.2 million in 2010-11, £50.7 million in 2011-12, £39.7 million in 2012-13, and £81.1 million in 2013-14.

But spending then plunged over the next four years – in the first five-year planning period to begin under the coalition – with just £22.9 million in 2014-15, £24.6 million in 2015-16, £32.1 million in 2016-17 and only £14.6 million in 2017-18.

Although it is not yet clear how much was spent in 2018-19, the government is planning to spend £300 million over the next five years on Access for All, including £50 million that had been deferred from the last five years.

11 July 2019

 

 

Disabled governor’s anger over hospital’s parking charges sparks new campaign

A disabled governor of a leading London hospital has accused its executives of arrogance and a “disgraceful” lack of compassion after they decided to start charging holders of blue badges to use their carpark.

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust agreed at a meeting last week that holders of blue badges would no longer be allowed free parking at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital.

Kush Kanodia, a patient governor of the trust, has been trying to persuade the trust for the last year not to introduce parking charges for patients with blue badges.

He is so frustrated at the decision that he is now planning to lead a campaign, alongside Disability Rights UK, to scrap all such charges at hospitals across England.

Kanodia, a social entrepreneur who advises organisations such as the Global Disability Innovation Hub and the Museum of Happiness on disability issues, and who was this week appointed as a DR UK ambassador, said it was a “disgraceful decision”.

He persuaded the trust’s council of governors last year to “strongly oppose” charging disabled patients to use the hospital’s carpark – arguing that there was a close correlation between disability and poverty – and he managed to fend off the plans until last week.

He said: “It’s a disgraceful decision. I’m shocked. It shows a complete lack of compassion.

The truth is, they can’t be trusted to show compassion.”

He said it was accepted that 10 years of austerity had had a disproportionate impact on disabled people.

He added: “The rights of disabled people have been ebbing away for the last 10 years. If we don’t make a stand and say enough is enough it’s just going to go on and on.”

He said the trust’s take-over in 2015 of West Middlesex University Hospital Trust – which already charged disabled patients to use its carparks – may have had an impact on the decision to introduce charging at Chelsea and Westminster.

Kanodia said that denying disabled people access to basic healthcare would affect their access to employment and education and their ability to be full participants in society.

He said the trust’s decision had persuaded him to campaign for all hospitals in England to be banned from charging disabled patients to use their carparks.

He said: “We want to abolish all parking charges for disabled people for all NHS hospitals in England.”

He believes the trust should be making reasonable adjustments for disabled patients under the Equality Act.

And he pointed out that devolved governments in both Scotland and Wales have scrapped all hospital parking charges, not just those for disabled patients.

Kanodia also questioned whether the trust had carried out an assessment of the impact of the introduction of the charges on disabled people, which would have provided evidence on whether it was breaching its public sector equality duty under the Equality Act.

The trust had failed to comment by 11am today (Thursday).

11 July 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 14:37
Jul 032019
 

[This piece was originally published in Labour Briefing and copied with permission of the author, Mark Harrison]

WHEN I WROTE ON UNIVERSAL CREDIT (UC) in the November 2017 issue of Labour Briefing with Julie Kemmy, the early effects of this radical change to benefits were only just beginning to be felt by claimants and disabled people. Twenty months on the picture is becoming clearer.

What has been revealed is that UC is at least as big a threat to those in work as it is to claimants. We can see the much larger and scarier implications of the restructuring of the economy as well as the benefits system under the Tories. Trade unions need to wise up quickly as it is their members who will be hardest hit as UC goes mainstream.

UC is an attack on the organised trade union movement as it is designed to control and sanction millions of workers and claimants. It is designed to facilitate low pay and insecure work and to leave people indebted and fearful. They will then be forced to work on zero-hours contracts for a minimum or below minimum wage for employers who are often the same companies avoiding paying their taxes.

Blair and Brown set up the system of working tax credits to support those in work but in low pay sectors. This was to ensure a sufficient level of income to support them and their families.

Effectively this was a subsidy on low wages and drove incomes and wage levels down. The minimum wage (now misnamed the National Living Wage) is exactly that, although unscrupulous employers always try to find ways to avoid paying even this amount. This is especially true in the gig economy and in sectors such as social care where travel time between appointments in the community is not paid.

Essentially UC is restructuring the labour market and forcing workers to be monitored and controlled by DWP work coaches. Job Centres are now acting as ‘pimps’ for the private sector by forcing people as part of their claimant commitment to work in companies which offer three hour a week contracts and don’t pay the minimum wage. They are also coercing people to become self-employed when they are working exclusively for one company who are determining when they work, for how long and where.

A claimant in Norwich outlines this process.

“After being made redundant I was put onto UC as a job seeker. I applied for over 170 jobs unsuccessfully. Eventually I was offered a job, and although it was a role different to anything I’d done before it was a job ‘I could do’ so I was obliged to take it under pain of sanction. The job was ‘self-employed’ and as such paid below the national minimum wage. My work coach said that this was ‘illegal’ yet still made undertaking it part of my claimant commitment, which I would have to comply with in order to continue to receive UC. “Because the work is so poorly paid, continuing to receive UC is essential in order for me to survive, yet to receive UC I have keep doing the job, bearing in mind it costs me over £100 a month in fares simply to get to it. If the ‘employer’ is acting illegally, as my work coach considered, then is not the DWP abetting a crime by compelling me to do the work? Now I am sure that the ‘employer’ – a large, well known UK firm – has probably checked all the loopholes to make sure that they are not acting illegally by ‘employing’ me as an agent on a self-employed basis even though I have to work at the company premises using the company’s equipment”.

So claimants are forced into self-employment, under threat of sanction, by DWP/UC staff. Self-employed UC claimants are now responsible for their own national insurance and tax and are not able to receive sick or holiday pay while being paid minimum or below minimum wage rates of pay. Workers on low pay and zero-hours, or near zero hours, contracts are being sucked into the UC vortex. Pay is so low in the DWP itself, the department responsible for designing and delivering UC, that the PCS union estimates that around 40% of DWP employees will have to claim UC and therefore potentially be subject to the sanctioning regime. You would then have the bizarre situation of DWP staff sanctioning colleagues in their own organisation.

The rollout of UC has been hit by the crisis in the government and the Tory Party. In October 2018, the then DWP secretary Esther McVey had to get a vote through Parliament to extend the rollout of UC across the country.

This was not going to be won as the surgeries of Tory MPs were full of UC claimants left destitute by the six week (sometimes ten weeks or longer) delay in receiving payments, the dysfunctional loans process and the extra-judicial, pernicious sanctioning processes. So the government pulled the vote but UC is still being rolled out by stealth.

The problem is that claimants are being transferred onto UC through ‘change of circumstances’. This means that people are losing their legacy benefits when their old claims and enhancements are cancelled and the UC claim is treated as a new claim. This leaves claimants thousands of pounds a year worse off.

McVey was forced to admit this could reach £2,400 a year for some people. However, this suits the Treasury as they are saving billions a year while claimants and their children are forced to use food banks. In this crisis they were forced to reduce the wait for money down to five weeks but food bank use continues to rise as the numbers pushed onto UC continues to suck in more new and existing claimants.

Latest DWP secretary Amber Rudd has been robust in defence of UC and is determined to proceed with the managed migration/rollout despite the overwhelming evidence from her own department and government statistics of the harm being caused. In a desperate attempt to detoxify the brand she has shamelessly bought a series of advertorials in the free Metro newspaper at a cost of over £250,000 to the taxpayer, spinning propaganda and lies about the positive effects of UC as journalism.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) have launched a campaign to dump the Metro DWP lies, with activists up and down the country binning thousands of copies every Wednesday when the advertorials appear.

Evidence has emerged of women being forced into prostitution as a result of the five week delay and low levels of payments for single parents. So-called survival sex was revealed by the Guardian and the Work and Pensions select committee is taking evidence on this.

Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty singled out UC as a major contributing factor in his report on the UK. He said that draconian sanctions and long payment delays are driving claimants into hardship, depression and despair; that the benefit was “fast falling into universal discredit”; and compared the Tories’ welfare policies to the creation of the 19th century workhouses. He said that unless austerity is ended the poorest in the UK faced lives that are “solitary, poor nasty, brutish and short”. He accused ministers of being in a state of denial about the impact of policies, including the rollout of UC, since 2010.

His report highlights the shocking rise in the use of food banks, and rough sleeping, falling life expectancy for some, the decimation of legal aid, the denial of benefits to severely disabled people and the impoverishment of single mothers and people in mental distress.

A landmark study published in November 2017 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Open estimated that 120,000 deaths were directly attributable to austerity cuts. The calculation was made that there were 45,000 more deaths in the first four years of austerity 2010-2014. The research calculated that this could rise to 200,000 by the end of 2020 if austerity is not reversed. The researchers from UCL and Cambridge University labelled this as “economic murder”.

UC is also violating women’s rights. According to evidence collected by the Trussell Trust the five week wait can increase the severe financial barriers women face when leaving abusive relationships. Over 50% of survivors said they couldn’t afford to leave as they had restricted access to funds. The single household payment puts women at further risk and vulnerability. Many survivors in women’s refuges face double the wait if they have escaped an abusive relationship without ID and documents needed to make the claim.

Latest figures show half of people receiving UC have had their payments cut by 20% by the government to repay a debt, including advances.

So what now? The Tories are immune to criticism and evidence as seen in their dismissal of the UN report. In my original article I questioned whether UC was May’s Poll Tax. I concluded that it would only be so if Labour and the trade unions mobilised a mass movement to defeat it. This has not happened.

While Corbyn and McDonnell have said a future Labour government would scrap UC, the shadow DWP minister Margaret Greenwood continues to sit on the fence. The TUC has passed a motion to stop and scrap UC, as has the PCS union. However, they have failed to mobilise any extra-parliamentary action, leaving protest at the level of exposing the horrors while failing to hold government to account.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Unite Community are organising actions to stop and scrap UC and we are building a national social movement in the Scrap UC Alliance (www.suca.org.uk), encouraging activists to set up local groups.

The next stage of the battle needs to move beyond moral outrage to effective direct action to stop the deaths and poverty crisis caused by austerity and UC.

  • Mark Harrison is chair of Norfolk Against Universal Credit and a member of DPAC. He is director of Social Action Solutions.

 

 Posted by at 20:50
Jun 202019
 

Guards lock activists inside DWP HQ during universal credit ‘whitewash’ action

Disabled activists were locked inside the Department for Work and Pensions’ headquarters by security guards as they delivered thousands of copies of a newspaper that feature “deliberately misleading” DWP adverts which “whitewash” the truth about universal credit.

Protesters from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) were unable to leave Caxton House in Westminster for several minutes yesterday (Wednesday) when security guards locked the building’s front doors behind them after they entered the main lobby.

They had entered the building to deliver a letter to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, in which they asked her to explain why she had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on an advertising campaign in the free Metro newspaper that features “one-sided adverts whitewashing the disastrous Universal Credit policy”.

They also delivered about 10 boxes of copies of yesterday’s Metro, which features the latest Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advertising feature on universal credit (UC), and which activists had removed from distribution points at train stations and on buses across the capital.

Soon after their arrival, DWP security guards locked the front entrance and threatened to call the police, even though the action had been peaceful and focused only on delivering the newspapers and the letter to Rudd.

The doors were eventually unlocked several minutes later after one of the activists had a panic attack.

The letter to Rudd was finally accepted, and although DWP initially refused to accept the boxes of newspapers, they were later taken inside after being left outside the department’s front entrance.

In the letter, DPAC and allies from Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group asked Rudd “why, when Universal Credit is causing so much suffering and distress, your department chose to throw money at this shameless exercise”.

They added: “We hope that the enclosed materials will provide food for thought as you prepare your response to claimants staring into empty cupboards trying to work out how they can feed themselves and their children, and all those who are wondering why the taxes we pay for collective provision of services are being used in such an inappropriate attempt to rewrite the story of this disastrous policy.”

Paula Peters, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, who took part in the action, said: “They are discrediting people’s real testimonies of going through universal credit.

I have been outside jobcentres and have spoken to claimants who have been driven to prostitution, destitution and homelessness by universal credit.”

She added: “We will continue to expose their lies and total fabrications and we have to get the truth out there with thorough research and with people’s personal testimonies.”

Yesterday’s action, including the hire of a van to deliver the newspapers, was paid for through a crowdfunding effort launched by Sheffield DPAC, which is set to pay for further such actions.

As DPAC was delivering its copies of the Metro to DWP in London, disabled activists and allies in other parts of the country, including Sheffield and Bristol, posted photographs of copies of the Metro being removed from their distribution points, as part of the ongoing #DumpMetroDWPLies campaign.

A spokesperson for Sheffield DPAC – which has played a significant role in the national campaign – said anger about the Metro adverts was growing, and she thanked those who had donated to the fund.

She said the Metro adverts were “propaganda” and “a deliberate attempt to manipulate public perception” of universal credit.

She said: “I implore people, whether they are claimants or not, to support the #DumpMetroDWPLies campaign against the DWP advertorials.

People have to be aware that once the government have done targeting us that they will move on to someone else.

We need to act, we need to stand up, we need to stop this, and we absolutely must do it together.”

Meanwhile, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has confirmed that it is investigating the way the DWP advertising features have been published by the Metro.

Disability News Service (DNS) confirmed last month that DWP breached Civil Service guidelines when it decided to launch the nine-week series of “unethical and misleading” Metro advertorials without including a government logo.

And this week DNS passed a screen shot to ASA showing the home page of the Metro’s website, which featured several UC adverts designed to look like a newspaper investigation and which disguise their DWP origin.

None of the adverts on the website mentioned they were designed and paid for by DWP, which appears to be a breach of ASA rules.

Leaked DWP documents have revealed that the adverts were always designed to be misleading and not to “look or feel like DWP or UC”.

An ASA spokesperson said: “We’re currently assessing a number of complaints relating to these ads, including complaints that challenge whether the ads are obviously identifiable as marketing communications.

We will establish whether there are grounds for further action in due course.”

Meanwhile, the Disability Benefits Consortium of charities has written to ASA to complain about the “deliberately misleading” advertising features.

The letter dismantles several of the claims made in the adverts, including the claim that it is a “myth” that “Universal Credit doesn’t work”, telling ASA: “These statements omit the thousands of claimants universal credit does not ‘work for’ but instead has driven them into debt, rent arrears, foodbanks, and homelessness.”

A DWP spokesperson told DNS: “Our position is that all our advertising is factual and designed to increase understanding of Universal Credit.

We consulted the Advertising Standards Authority prior to launching the partnership and have reflected their advice.

We’ve not got anything further to add.”

On the DPAC action at Caxton House, she said: “You can understand that we’re in a government building, so a group of non-staff members quickly entering the building with large parcels is an obvious security concern.

Security dealt with the incident quickly and the activists were able to leave the parcels outside the front door, without the need for further action.”

She had already declined to comment when asked what DWP planned to do with the thousands of Metros delivered to Rudd.

20 June 2019

 

 

Motability customers ‘will benefit from hundreds of millions of pounds in new funding’

Disabled people and families with disabled children will benefit from hundreds of millions of pounds in new funding released by the company that runs the Motability car scheme.

Motability Operations announced on Friday that it would release £370 million from its financial reserves to support disabled people and their families, and not all of them will be Motability customers.

The move follows repeated criticism from MPs on the Treasury and work and pensions select committees about high levels of financial reserves held by Motability Operations – which reached more than £2.6 billion in March 2018 – as well as issues such as high rates of executive pay at the company, a lack of transparency, and a critical report from the National Audit Office (NAO).

The company now plans to spend £100 million of the funds it is releasing from its reserves on supporting customers, while the other £270 million – as well as all this year’s profits – will be handed to Motability*, the charity which oversees its work.

This could amount to tens of millions of pounds more than £270 million, as Motability Operations made more than £100 million in profits last year in addition to a £400 million donation to the charity.

The charity has decided to use the extra funds to set up a new endowment fund that will act as a “long-term insurance policy” and allow it to expand its “charitable horizons”.

The two organisations have confirmed to Disability News Service (DNS) some of the ways in which they plan to use the extra funds to support disabled people.

One of the most eye-catching initiatives for the Motability charity is a plan to expand the number of grants it makes to disabled people with high support needs to allow them to lease adapted vehicles.

Such a move would be a success for disabled campaigners who have long called for Motability to use more of its substantial resources to fund expensive, heavily-adapted vehicles for disabled people who would otherwise be unable to engage with their local community.

The charity is also considering providing more funds to pay for driving lessons for disabled people, while it is hoping to help more people with disabled children under three years old with high support needs, building on a pilot scheme it has been running with the Family Fund.

Some of the funds could also be used to help disabled people who are not Motability customers with their transport needs, for example with research projects exploring the use of new technology.

Only disabled people receiving the higher mobility rates of disability living allowance (DLA) or personal independence payment (PIP) – or similar payments for former members of the armed services – are eligible to join the Motability scheme.

In a written “rationale” for setting up the endowment fund, Lord Sterling, the charity’s chair, said that Motability was also in “very active discussions” with the Department for Work and Pensions in “areas of particular interest to them, where we can help disabled people with both expertise and money”.

This will include extending the period in which customers can keep their Motability vehicle while waiting for their appeal to be heard, if they lose entitlement in the move from DLA to PIP, as has happened to tens of thousands of customers since the introduction of PIP by the coalition government in 2013.

A Motability spokesperson said: “We recognised that there was an issue with customers returning their car before the completion of the appeal process, so in April 2017, we introduced the option for customers who were eligible for our transition support payment [for customers who joined the scheme before 2014] to receive a lower payment in return for retaining the vehicle for up to 26 weeks. 

At the time we believed that this would be sufficient for any customer to complete their appeal. 

As the volume of people pursuing an appeal has increased, the time taken to complete an appeal has also increased. 

If a customer has chosen to pursue an appeal and this has not been completed within the 26 weeks then, provided we are satisfied that the appeal is actively being pursued, we will provide a further discretionary extension to the retention period so the appeal can be completed.”

Motability Operations said the bulk of the £100 million it will be spending itself will go on direct payments to customers, with most of it to be spent on the good condition bonus that customers receive if they return their car in good shape at the end of their three or five-year lease.

The chairs of the two Commons committees that have held the organisations to account with their inquiries and public evidence sessions welcomed the new funding but said that Motability Operations still had more to do.

Nicky Morgan, the Conservative chair of the Treasury committee, said: “As our committees have concluded recently, Motability Operations’ significant financial reserves are difficult to square with the honourable objectives of the scheme. 

Last week’s announcement by Motability Operations – that it will release £370 million from its reserves to support customers and disabled people with mobility needs – is good news for members of the scheme. 

Motability Operations must now ensure that its customers will benefit from this either in the form of lower prices or more generous vehicular adaptations.”

Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions committee, said: “At long last and after months of chivvying by our committees and the NAO, Motability Operations has begun to accept that it can’t just sit there on piles of reserves built up thanks to the taxpayer’s unique support.

That’s most welcome, but is only a first step. There is still a way to go before we are satisfied that Motability is even beginning to make the best use of its vast funds and privileged position, to provide the best possible service for disabled people.”

*The charity Motability is a DNS subscriber

20 June 2019

 

 

Police and CPS face hate crime questions over disabled teen’s two-year ordeal

Police and prosecutors are facing questions over why they failed to treat the ordeal of a disabled teenager – who was kept as a slave for more than two years and subjected to brutal daily beatings – as a disability hate crime.

It is just the latest in a lengthy line of cases in which police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have faced accusations of failing to secure recognition of disability hate crime through the courts.

This week, both South Wales police (SWP) – one of six forces criticised last year for their “unacceptable” performance on disability hate crime – and CPS repeatedly refused to say what steps they took to confirm whether the teenager’s horrific ordeal should be treated as a hate crime.

SWP has described the injuries experienced by the young disabled man during the forced, unpaid labour as “horrendous” and said he was left without a single uninjured part of his body when he was finally rescued.

The young man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is autistic and has ADHD, and was fed just one meal a day, often just a tin of soup or baked beans.

He was regularly beaten by Anthony Baker and his son Harvey with a metal pole and was forced to work in their scrapyard in Jersey Marine, near Swansea, and to live “in squalor” in a small caravan.

Reports of the trial say that when he was discovered by police in January – following a tip-off from a member of the public – he had a series of horrific injuries, including open wounds, was dirty and malnourished, and found it difficult to speak because of injuries to his jaw, which had been broken on multiple occasions.

Wales Online said the judge described the way the young disabled man was treated as “brutal and savagely inhuman” and said he had been subjected to a regime of “immense brutality” and “sadistic behaviour”.

The Bakers deliberately broke one of his fingers, bit his nose and “treated him as a human punchbag”.

Neither of the men has shown any remorse for what happened, said SWP.

The Bakers were jailed at Swansea Crown Court on Friday (14 June) for a total of 16 years after admitting assault, grievous bodily harm and unlawful wounding, while Anthony Baker also admitted a modern slavery offence*.

But because police and prosecutors apparently failed to consider or treat these offences as possible disability hate crimes at any stage of their investigations and preparation for the trial, the judge was not asked to increase the sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.

It is just the latest case to highlight how the criminal justice system is failing victims of disability hate crime.

Last October, West Midlands police and CPS faced similar questions over their failure to treat an “utterly barbaric” campaign of violence and abuse directed at a disabled mum and daughter as disability hate crime.

The following month, Suffolk police was criticised for failing to treat an attack on a disabled woman – who was spat at and left covered with flour by a group of teenagers as she sat on a park bench – as a disability hate crime.

That case had come just days after the CPS annual hate crime report showed the number of disability hate crime cases referred to prosecutors by police forces in England and Wales plunged in the previous year by nearly a quarter.

The number of disability hate crime convictions also slumped, from 800 in 2016-17 to 564 in 2017-18 (a drop of 29.5 per cent).

Earlier that month, a report by two watchdogs found that the work of police officers on more than half of the disability hate crime investigations examined across six sample forces – including South Wales police – had been found to be “unacceptable”.

Disability News Service has been reporting on the criminal justice system’s failings in dealing with disability hate crime since 2009.

This week, a South Wales police spokesperson repeatedly refused to say if his force took active steps to investigate whether disability-related hostility was a motive for the Bakers’ crimes.

Instead, he said in a statement: “At no stage of the investigation was there any evidence that the victim was abused due to a disability.

If there was evidence of this nature then it would have been presented to the CPS.”

A CPS spokesperson refused to say what steps were taken by prosecutors in relation to considering disability hate crime as a possible motive for the Bakers’ crimes.

Instead, he said in a statement: “The crimes of Anthony and Harvey Baker were despicable and their prison sentences reflect the harm they did.

The victim was subjected to verbal abuse but this was related to their perceived lifestyle and work. The motivation for the assaults was the work the victim did.

The law gives prosecutors the power to request that judges increase the sentence when there is evidence the offender demonstrated hostility or was motivated by hostility based on a person’s disability.

Where it exists, we won’t hesitate to put this evidence before the court.”

He added later: “For an offence to be prosecuted by the CPS as a disability hate crime and therefore get a sentence uplift there has to be evidence that the offenders demonstrated hostility or were motivated by hostility based on a disability.

That evidence was not there in his case.”

David Wilkin, a coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, said: “The inconsistencies inherent in the prosecution of hate crime are underpinned by much evidence from many victims.”

He suggested there was now a need for an “operational stipulation” that forces police officers to “process hate crime with the seriousness that it deserves”.

He pointed to the ongoing Law Commission consultation on current hate crime legislation, which could – if it produces new laws – enable prosecutors to treat hate crime “with the gravity it deserves”, and provide judges with “the clarity that will enable them to make proportional sentencing decisions”.

*Anthony Baker, aged 49, had previously pleaded guilty to requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour, four counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, unlawful wounding, and inflicting grievous bodily harm, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and another five years on licence.

Harvey Baker, aged 19, had previously pleaded guilty to six counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, three of inflicting grievous bodily harm, and one of unlawful wounding, and was sentenced to six years in a young offender institution.

20 June 2019

 

 

Disabled woman describes her long-stay hospital abuse ordeal

A young disabled woman has described the abuse she experienced in a charity-run mental health hospital, and has called for more to be done to close such long-stay institutions.

Abigail Donohoe spent more than six years in mental health hospitals in her late teens and early 20s, including more than two years at a brain injury service run by the St Andrew’s Healthcare charity in Northampton.

Although the charity’s brain injury service was rated good (PDF) when last inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in 2016, the regulator this month placed the adolescents service on the same site into special measures (PDF).

The adolescents service for young disabled people attracted media attention last year when it was revealed that one autistic teenager called Bethany had been kept in seclusion for nearly two years and was often fed through a hatch.

The same service had already been exposed the previous year by Channel 4’s Dispatches, which featured a visit by former Liberal Democrat social care minister Norman Lamb, who described his horror at the use of segregation he found there.

Now a CQC inspection has placed the service in special measures, giving it six months to make urgent improvements, after raising serious concerns about safety, and warning that staff “did not always treat patients with kindness, dignity, compassion and respect”.

Donohoe is not autistic herself, but she says she can display “challenging behaviour with autistic traits”, which was why she was admitted to the neuropsychiatry unit.

She was originally admitted to St Andrew’s as a voluntary patient in 2013, but she was later sectioned.

She arrived during a period of crisis, having been led to believe that she would receive a thorough, six-week assessment followed by recommendations for a continuing programme of treatment.

But she did not leave for more than two years, and then spent another two years at Milton Park Therapeutic Campus, in Bedford, firstly on section for a year and then as a voluntary patient for another year because there were no community-based placements available.

Milton Park, now renamed Lakeside, was rated as “requires improvement” earlier this year by CQC, and remains in “special measures” after previously being rated “inadequate”.

This week, Donohoe described to Disability News Service how she was kept in seclusion for hours at a time at St Andrew’s.

While some staff were supportive and caring, others taunted or threatened her, and physical restraint was common and could last up to 30 minutes, including techniques such as bending her wrists, lying on top of her, or injecting her with powerful sedatives against her will.

She believes the kind of abuse she experienced is widespread in many institutions.

Donohoe, who is currently living with her family with outreach support while she tries to find a suitable supported living setting where she can live independently in the community, has now written to MPs and peers on the joint committee on human rights (JCHR) to push for wide-ranging reform.

Since leaving “high-pressure institutional settings”, she has been “so much calmer”, she said.

She said the failure to release patients from long-stay institutions is partly connected to the profits such services can make for the organisations running them because of the huge fees they are able to charge.

And they often justify the failure to release patients like her by recording every single offensive or aggressive word as a separate incident – which happened at St Andrew’s – allowing them to exaggerate how often a patient has been offensive or aggressive and demonstrate why they cannot be released.

She said: “That makes me look like an abusive monster. I can be very challenging, but not 200 separate incidents, and often it will have been caused by goading from the staff.”

The goading at St Andrew’s involved threatening her with powerful medication or telling her she will be “here forever” if she does not “shut up”.

They do that to make it look as if you need to be in hospital,” she said.

She has spoken of her hope to speak out on behalf of fellow patients to help in the push for reform.

She contrasts the treatment of people with conditions such as diabetes and schizophrenia, who receive crisis inpatient healthcare and then receive ongoing community-based care, with the care often handed out to autistic people, and those with learning difficulties and impairments like hers, who are often “warehoused” for years on end in long-stay hospital units.

She said: “The system is completely ineffective, and it is about locking people away. It needs a complete overhaul.”

She believes that the six-week timeframe she was told to expect is the only one acceptable for someone in her position to be detained in such a setting.

After that period expires, she says, and the recommendations have been made, support should be provided in an inclusive community setting.

She points to the case of Jade Hutchings, an autistic woman and a pen pal of hers, whose own case was written about in the mainstream media last year when it emerged that she had been locked in an assessment and treatment unit for more than 13 years.

Donohoe said there needed to be more effort to hear from service-users like her, although she accepts that many patients cannot speak for themselves because of their impairments and the fear of services taking revenge on them if they do speak out.

She said: “I am extremely frustrated that it is not changing despite all the scandals.”

Only last week, she watched two senior CQC figures giving evidence to the JCHR about the regulator’s failure to halt the abuse at Whorlton Hall, later exposed by an undercover reporter working for BBC’s Panorama.

Donohoe said the whole care system was failing and CQC itself needed to do more to “take ownership” of the problems.

She said she did not trust the CQC’s ratings, and added: “There’s not a lot of point in having them if you can’t trust the ratings.”

A spokesperson for St Andrew’s said: “We support vulnerable people and have a duty of care which we take very seriously. 

An important part of this is respecting patients’ confidentiality. For this reason we never comment on whether someone is or has been a patient at St Andrew’s Healthcare.”

But she added: “Seclusion is used for the shortest possible time and only ever when other less restrictive methods have failed.

A person is only restrained – and then only for the shortest possible time – when they have become a risk or danger to themselves, other patients or staff, and only when all other de-escalation methods have failed.

The CQC have recently recognised the reduction in the use of restrictive practices within our services, such as prone restraint and rapid tranquilisation.

For those patients who are referred to our hospital environments at a time when they are at their most vulnerable, our role is to provide care as best we can and proactively advocate on their behalf when we believe it is right for them to move on.”

But Donohoe said St Andrew’s had not advocated for its patients from her experience.

She said: “They are encouraging people to be kept there longer by exaggerating incidents in the way they are reported.”

She said she could not say what St Andrew’s was like now, but when she was there she was often kept in seclusion for hours, with staff making no effort to de-escalate the situation by engaging with her.

She weighs about eight-and-a-half stone and would often be physically restrained by “six big guys”.

She said the thought of what she went through while being restrained still makes her angry.

She added: “Occasionally I did get seriously hurt during the course of restraint.

It was quite damaging to every sort of recovery. That was why I had to go to Milton Park, to recover from St Andrew’s.”

20 June 2019

 

 

Praise for cake shop chain that admitted access faults, and put them right

A chain of cake shops has thanked a disabled campaigner for drawing its attention to access failures that prevented wheelchair-users entering three of its stores.

Konditor said it was “ashamed” of its previous access failings and has apologised to “anyone who has visited [our] shops in the past and been unable to gain access”.

It has now pledged to make a financial donation to a London disabled people’s organisation (DPO) after admitting it was previously unaware of its duties under the Equality Act.

The access failings were spotted by Esther Leighton, co-founder of the disabled-led campaigning organisation Reasonable Access, after she was unable to enter three of its six London stores.

After she raised her concerns, with support from Reasonable Access members, Konditor agreed to improve access at the three stores, providing each of them with low-cost portable ramps that allow wheelchair-users to cope with single steps at their entrances.

Now Konditor is backing Inclusion London’s Disability Justice Project, which supports London DPOs to use the law to make disabled people’s rights to independent living and access to goods and services a reality.

Konditor will donate 20p to the project every time it sells one of its most popular cakes over the next six months.

Leighton said she had asked Konditor repeatedly to buy ramps for its inaccessible stores.

In similar situations, she has taken the service-provider to court, but once the problem reached the company’s head office, she said, “Konditor turned the situation around”.

She said: “They fixed the problem, made amends including by selling cakes for the Disability Justice Project, which is a cause close to my heart, and so I look forward to being a loyal customer for many years to come.”

Leighton said: “I have an ongoing frustration with high street shops without step-free access, particularly when this can often be fixed with a simple ramp available online for as little as £50.

I am unable to get up even small steps, so this is a barrier which unnecessarily limits me.

Despite the Equality Act 2010 duty being very clear that shops should have ramps, many do not do so.”

She added: “I find being denied access to businesses, particularly luxury ones like this, utterly demoralising; it makes me feel like a second-class citizen and it makes me frustrated that 24 years after the law said that ‘reasonable adjustments’ (like a ramp) should be made, that they are not.

I find trying to enforce my rights very difficult, too.

Sometimes I need to go all the way to court (as it’s usually impossible to get lawyers for such cases) and this is costly in time and money, as well as upsetting.

However, it’s often the only way to get this change made, so there isn’t an alternative to ensure I and other disabled people are treated better.

In Konditor’s case, I am really delighted that they made the situation right and this wasn’t necessary.

They’re also keen to share with other businesses the many positives of making changes that ensure a welcome for all people, which makes me happy as it’s improving the world for everyone.” 

She encouraged other disabled people who are angry at not being able to access a service, even after asking for improvements, to use the law to help bring about change.

She said: “You don’t need to be a lawyer to do this, though you do need to have time and be able to deal with sometimes complex paperwork.”

Leighton encouraged disabled people to contact Reasonable Access – which supports disabled people who are using the law, particularly the Equality Act 2010, to advance disability rights – if they want to speak to others who are taking such action, and also to contact their local MP.

But she said they should also campaign for a more effective enforcement mechanism, and she added: “Changes this basic could be enforced by the local council, for instance, rather than requiring individuals to do it.

That would be better for businesses and disabled people.”

Svetlana Kotova, Inclusion London’s Disability Justice Project co-ordinator, said: “Konditor admitted their mistake and took this opportunity to make their shops more accessible. 

If other providers of goods and services had similar attitude, everyday experience of many disabled people would be very different.

However, it is important to remember that Konditor took those steps because Esther Leighton explained to them what is required by the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

This shows how much work still needs to be done to ensure providers of goods and services, including small businesses, understand their duties under the Equality Act and comply with it.   

We know access is good for everyone and we hope this example will encourage many more businesses to adopt a similar approach.”

Paul Cons, Konditor’s chief executive, said: “Until Esther bought this issue to our attention, I’m ashamed to say we had simply not fully considered the needs of our disabled customers or realised what was required of us by law.

This has been a welcome wake-up call for us and we’re glad to have addressed this issue in the business. 

Thanks to a passionate campaigner like Esther, we’ve made the changes, but feel she shouldn’t have had to bring it to our attention in the first place.”

20 June 2019

 

 

Welcome for new blue badge rules, but concerns remain

Disabled campaigners have welcomed new rules that will make it easier for autistic people and others with invisible impairments to secure blue parking badges, but they have also raised concerns about how they will work in practice.

The new government rules for councils are likely to lead to a significant increase in the number of disabled people eligible for blue badges across England.

Disabled people with blue badges in many parts of the country already find it almost impossible at peak times to find a parking space.

But the government has also announced a new taskforce aimed at clamping down on fraud and misuse of blue badges, which it hopes will ease the pressure on spaces.

The government was forced into making the changes to blue badge guidance because of its previous decision in 2014 to tighten the rules, which led to a judicial review legal case taken on behalf of an autistic man with learning difficulties.

That led to the Department for Transport (DfT) agreeing to review the guidance, and eventually introduce the new rules for local authorities in England, which will come into force on 30 August.

Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said: “It’s unacceptable that people with hidden disabilities still face discrimination when using disabled facilities like parking spaces.  

Extending the Blue Badge scheme is a watershed moment in ensuring those with hidden disabilities are able to travel with greater ease and live more independent lives.” 

Under the new rules, a disabled person should be automatically eligible for a blue badge if they receive eight points or more under the “moving around” activity of the mobility component of personal independence payment (PIP), or they receive the PIP mobility component and also score at least 10 points under the “planning and following journeys” activity because making a journey causes them “overwhelming psychological distress”.

Others who do not qualify automatically could still be eligible for a badge if they pass an assessment to decide if they cannot walk or undertake a journey without creating a risk of serious harm, causing “very considerable psychological distress”, or experiencing very considerable difficulty when walking.

Helen Dolphin, co-founder of the People’s Parking scheme and a blue badge expert, welcomed the extension of the scheme as long as there were also efforts made to “sort out the fraud and misuse” in the current system.

She said the new guidance and the anti-fraud taskforce “have to go hand in hand”.

Dolphin, herself a badge-holder, said: “Blue badges are being misused by friends and family quite a lot of the time, and they are also being used fraudulently.”

She has heard from an industry expert that fake blue badges have been sold door-to-door in London for £100 each.

Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people, said the new rules would certainly “be a great relief to many” but Autistic UK was “sceptical” that the change would be effective because there were not even enough accessible parking bays to meet the demands of current badge holders.

She said: “Increasing the number of badge holders without also ensuring that local councils have the funds to increase available parking bays will simply mean that all badge holders will receive a poorer service and experience a reduction in their ability to access services.”

She also warned of problems with the crackdown on fraud and misuse, including the risk of a “backlash” against people with invisible impairments, who “face a different kind of discrimination, that of people not believing that they are disabled”.

But she said: “Obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement and a crackdown, properly executed, would be very welcome.”

Autistic UK also wants to see a crackdown on misuse of accessible bays by non-disabled people, along with a requirement on landowners to enforce proper use of the bays on private land.

She said: “A combination of these measures would go a very long way towards ensuring that disabled bays were only used by badge holders, which would mean a great many more bays were available to serve the influx of new people in the scheme.”

The National Autistic Society (NAS) said the changes would be “life-changing” for many autistic people.

Jane Harris, NAS director of external affairs, said: “The old rules were too focused on people’s physical ability to walk, and changes to government guidance in 2014 meant that many autistic people couldn’t get a badge.”

Authorities in Scotland and Wales have already made changes aimed at addressing the problems with the 2014 guidance.

DfT has previous predicted that its new rules will see a six per cent increase in blue badge applications (53,000) in the first year, and an “initial surge” of 44,000 new badges (a five per cent increase).

It will provide councils with £1.7 million in the first year of the new guidance to help with the expected increase in applications.

Last year, the Local Government Association estimated that the theft of blue badges had risen by 45 per cent in 12 months and was six times higher than in 2013.  

The taskforce will look at ensuring badges are used correctly and improving public understanding of the scheme.

20 June 2019

 

 

Author backs Justice for Jodey and calls for urgent DWP deaths inquiry

The disabled author of an acclaimed new investigation into the impact of austerity on disabled people has backed calls for an independent inquiry into links between the government’s policies and the deaths of benefit claimants.

Frances Ryan said there was an “urgent” need for an inquiry to investigate the failings of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its links to the deaths of disabled people claiming benefits.

She has become the latest high-profile figure to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls for an inquiry into such deaths, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers or senior civil servants to be passed to police.

The petition also calls for a recognition that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to change its policies and practices urgently to make the safety of all benefit claimants a priority.

Ryan’s new book, Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People**, argues that those in power have turned on disabled people, who have become objects of “suspicion, demonization and contempt” since 2010.

Ryan told Disability News Service: “In Crippled, I look at multiple cases of people who have died after having their benefits removed.

Some were found ‘fit for work’ but due to the inaccuracy of the assessment system, were so ill they died shortly after.

Some were starved, frozen, or had lethal health conditions triggered because they had no money for food, electric, or heating.

Others like Jodey were left in desperate states and sadly took their own lives.”

She added: “Coroners have repeatedly pointed to ‘fit-for-work’ tests as a contributory factor in a number of disabled people’s deaths.

Suicide is deeply complex and it’s vital to report on these cases responsibly, but it isn’t hard to see how people are becoming vulnerable.

Remove social security from a disabled person too disabled or ill to work and it’s like pushing someone off a cliff and feigning surprise when they hit the beach.”

Her book brings together much of the research that has exposed the impact of austerity on disabled people in the last decade, but it also hears the stories of individuals whose lives have been blighted by cuts to their support.

It is, she says, “a rallying cry against the shrinking of the welfare state and the hardship the austerity agenda is causing disabled people”.

Her book has been praised by high-profile figures such as film director Ken Loach, and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who has said: “This devastating book should shake our political system to its foundations.”

Ryan concludes in the book that disabled people “have been routinely driven into destitution, pushed from the workplace and stripped of the right to live in their own homes”, while the benefit system is in chaos, with disabled people “forced through a system defined by hostility and humiliation”.

And she says society has now reached the point at which “a cocktail of austerity and long-standing prejudice towards disabled people is leading to the sort of large-scale negligence that at its extremes is tantamount to abuse”.

*To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

**Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People, by Frances Ryan, is published by Verso Books

20 June 2019

 

 

MPs hear of barriers facing LGBT disabled people who need social care

A disabled activist has told MPs of the discrimination and other barriers faced by LGBT disabled people who need to access social care.

Dr Ju Gosling, co-chair of the LGBTQI+* disabled people’s organisation Regard, told a Commons committee that members of her community were much less likely to be able to rely on family and friends for support with their care needs.

And when they accessed support from the care industry, they often faced discrimination from personal assistants (PAs), care workers and their local authority.

She was giving evidence to the women and equalities committee as part of its inquiry into health and social care and LGBT communities.

Gosling pointed to research co-produced by Regard, the University of Bristol, the Social Care Institute for Excellence and the LGBT charity Stonewall, which was published two years ago.

More than half of those surveyed for the research said they never or only sometimes disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity to their PAs.

And more than a third said they had experienced discrimination or received poor treatment from their PAs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, with one man having been sexually assaulted after he told his PA he was gay.

Gosling told the MPs she believed the necessary protections were included in the Equality Act and the Care Act, so the key problem was with implementation of the legislation.

She said the research had also found that more than 90 per cent of those surveyed said their needs as an LGBTQI+ disabled person were either not considered or were only given some consideration when they were assessed or reviewed by their local authority.

Almost a third felt they had been discriminated against by their local authority on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Gosling said there were often problems recruiting PAs to provide paid support at home, with PAs often not wanting to be identified as a frequent visitor to a gay person’s home in case they were exposed to harassment.

She said that LGBT people were much more likely to need social care because they were “much more likely to move away from where we grew up, so we don’t have lifetime friends, our contact with our biological family is at best polite, is seldom close and is often non-existent [and] we’re much less likely to have children”.

For the same reasons, LGBT people are less likely to have access to advocacy from friends and family, she said.

She told the committee: “We would very strongly argue for the return of the policy that there should be a centre for independent living (CIL), led by disabled people, in every local authority area because peer support is not only the cheapest but also the most effective way to provide monitoring [of the support being provided].

Generally speaking, if you’re isolated at home you’ve got nobody to tell, [but] if you’ve got peer support meetings once a month for direct payment users you’ve got someone to tell, you’ve got staff, you’ve got workers.”

But she said many disabled-led CILs were being closed or the services they had provided had been taken on by “generic support agencies that aren’t run by disabled people” and that “don’t really know what the issues are and of course they don’t know how to tackle them”.

*People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, intersex or who hold identities such as non-binary

20 June 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:07
Jun 132019
 

 

Confusion – again – after Labour backtracks on Corbyn pledge to scrap universal credit

Labour’s policy on universal credit has again become mired in confusion after its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, promised to scrap the government’s “catastrophic” and “iniquitous” benefit system if his party wins the next general election.

Such a move would be seen as a significant victory for disabled activists and allies who have pushed the party to promise to scrap universal credit, instead of pledging only to halt the rollout of the system and fix its many flaws.

Interviewed after the party’s success in last week’s Peterborough by-election, Corbyn told Channel 4 News: “We are ready for a general election, and that general election will deliver a Labour government.”

He added: “If you voted Remain in 2016, and you’re on universal credit, if you voted Leave in 2016 on universal credit, you actually want to get rid of universal credit. That’s what Labour offers.”

Despite Corbyn’s comments, what seemed to be a significant change in policy appeared not to have been noticed by any mainstream media.

And the party’s press office today (Thursday) issued a statement that conflicted with what Corbyn said, merely stating again that a Labour government would pause the rollout of UC and try to make it fit for purpose.

A party spokesperson said: “Universal credit isn’t working and cannot continue in its current form.

Labour will stop the roll-out, and ensure our social security system genuinely protects people from poverty.”

Disabled activists, particularly Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), have campaigned for the government – and any future Labour government – to “stop and scrap” universal credit (UC).

Only last week, DPAC released new research which detailed media articles on UC published between January and May this year, which it said was “a damning record of UC systemic and catastrophic failures”.

It said that UC had reached a point where it was “unable to adapt to claimants’ complex circumstances, and is forcing people with the least resources into further poverty, homelessness, and hunger”. 

DPAC said it was calling for UC to be scrapped because it had become a social security system “which not only does not offer security, but actively undermined people’s ability to cope with the hazards of life”.

A DPAC spokesperson said last night (Wednesday), in response to Corbyn’s comments, but before the party had released its statement: “We welcome it as it’s the only credible position that Labour or any other party can take given UC’s well-evidenced fundamental failings, enormous waste and terrible harm but we remain unsure of Labour’s position until there is a firm public commitment.”

It is not the first time that Labour has appeared to call for UC to be scrapped and then retreated from that position.

Last October, the party had to back-track after deputy leader John McDonnell said in a television interview that UC was a “shambles” and “iniquitous” and added: “I think we are moving to a position now where it is just not sustainable. It will have to go.”

But the party’s press office later stressed that Labour’s position was that “universal credit in its current form simply isn’t working”.

Labour’s work and pensions secretary, Margaret Greenwood, was also heavily-criticised by disabled activists after telling the party’s annual conference in Liverpool last September that the government must “stop the rollout of universal credit and fix its many flaws”, rather than calling for it to be scrapped.

13 June 2019

 

 

OECD figures expose DWP claims of disability spending ‘generosity’

Repeated claims by the government that the UK is one of the most generous major economies in the world when it comes to spending on disabled people have been exposed as highly misleading by official figures.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its ministers have repeatedly defended themselves against criticisms of cuts to disabled people’s support by comparing their record with other countries.

But that defence has now been exposed as deeply misleading, with official figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing the UK has one of the worst records among major world economies on supporting disabled people.

This week, Disability News Service (DNS) was forced to lodge a complaint with DWP after a press officer refused to say if the department accepted the OECD figures.

The statistics emerged after Esther McVey, the former work and pensions secretary standing to be the new Tory party leader and prime minister, defended her own record in government by claiming – during a BBC interview – that the UK was “one of the most generous countries in our support for disabled people”.

DWP subsequently told Channel 4 News Fact Check, when it tried to confirm that claim, that “as a share of GDP, the UK’s public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany”.

This claim was based on data provided by the OECD group of major world economies, which show that of the G7 countries – Japan, the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK – the UK does spend the second-highest amount as a proportion of GDP.

But what the same figures also show is that, when it comes to public spending on incapacity (including sickness and disability benefits, and social care services), the UK’s spending is only 23rd highest of the 36 OECD members as a proportion of the country’s economic activity (GDP).

They even show the UK is below the OECD average of 1.9 per cent of GDP spent on incapacity.

The OECD figures also show the UK’s performance has worsened since 2010, when a Tory-led coalition took power.

In 2010, the UK was 22nd highest of OECD members, with 2.0 per cent of its GDP spent on incapacity, but had slipped by 2015 to 23rd, with just 1.852 per cent.

And when it comes to European Union members of the OECD, UK spending on incapacity is only 18th highest out of 23.

But when DNS asked if DWP accepted these OECD figures, a spokesperson said: “We’re spending £55 billion this year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before.

As a share of GDP, the UK’s public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany.”

She refused to say whether DWP accepted the other OECD figures.

DWP has frequently compared its spending on disability with other members of the G7.

In February 2018, DWP responded to the latest criticisms of its record on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by saying: “The UK is a recognised world leader in disabled rights and equality and as a share of GDP, our public spending on disability and incapacity is higher than all other G7 countries bar Germany.”

It made a similar point in September 2017, in response to criticisms by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, and also in June 2017, again in connection with breaches of the UN convention.

13 June 2019

 

 

Civil servants fail to answer key DWP deaths questions after meeting grieving parents

Senior Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants have failed to answer key questions about links between the government’s policies and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants, during a face-to-face meeting with grieving parents.

Emma Haddad, DWP’s director general for service excellence, and Colin Stewart, its work and health director for the north of England, spent more than an hour in Monday’s meeting with Joy Dove and Eric Whiting, the parents of Jodey Whiting.

The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case of the mother-of-nine, who had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA), and took her own life just 15 days later.

During the meeting, Dove asked 13 key questions that had been drafted for her by Disability News Service (DNS), based on her daughter’s case and the wider scandal of deaths linked to the actions of DWP ministers and senior civil servants.

But Haddad refused to answer many of the questions for legal reasons.

Among the questions about her daughter’s case, Dove asked how DWP could have made so many serious safeguarding failings.

Her ex-husband asked whether anyone had been disciplined or lost their job over their daughter’s death.

Dove asked Haddad why she should believe that DWP had fixed the system when it had made similar promises after so many other deaths.

And she asked why DWP kept making mistakes that led to the deaths of disabled people when it had carried out so many secret reviews into deaths linked to DWP actions.

Crucially, she also asked about the alleged cover-up which saw DWP fail to show the independent expert ministers had appointed to review the WCA a series of secret reviews into benefit-related deaths and letters written by coroners linked to the assessment process.

And Dove asked if she could see the secret review that would have been carried out by DWP after her daughter’s death.

Haddad promised Dove that she would provide written answers to all the questions.

The meeting took place in the offices of Labour’s Dr Paul Williams, Dove’s MP, in Thornaby-on-Tees.

Dove said that Haddad insisted in the meeting that ministers had not ordered her and Stewart to apologise in person, but that they had instead “got together and decided we needed to come here and say sorry”.

Dove told DNS she was glad the meeting had taken place, but she warned DWP that this would not be the end of her campaigning, although her legal team would now take the lead in seeking justice for her daughter.

She said: “It hasn’t really changed things because she’s dead and she’s not coming back.

I told them that five minutes away from here, my daughter is in that cemetery.”

Dove believes Haddad was on the verge of tears when she heard her speak about Jodey and showed her pictures of her daughter.

She said: “I thought she had a tear in her eye when I got upset and showed her letters from Jodey saying she was in debt and which said, ‘Please, mam, look after my babies.’

I could see a tear in her eye but at the same time she had to hold it back.”

But she said Haddad also told her: “I am a mother of two. I know how you would have felt.”

Dove said Haddad and her colleague were left speechless when she told them that campaigners were calling DWP “murderers”.

After the meeting, a DWP spokesperson said: “Senior officials have met with Mrs Dove today, to apologise again for the failings in handling her daughter’s case and discuss the lessons learnt.

We fully accepted the Independent Case Examiner’s findings earlier this year and have since reviewed and strengthened our procedures to ensure all vulnerable claimants are safeguarded.”

The number of people signing a petition in Jodey Whiting’s name, calling for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants or government ministers to be passed to the police, has now passed 42,000.

But that is less than halfway to the target of 100,000 needed to secure a House of Commons debate on the petition.

To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

13 June 2019

 

 

Care regulator faces ‘whitewash’ allegation by MPs and peers over abuse scandal

The care regulator has faced accusations from a committee of MPs and peers that it ordered a “whitewash” of abuse allegations at a private hospital for disabled people that was later exposed by a BBC documentary.

Two senior figures in the Care Quality Commission (CQC) were asked yesterday (Wednesday) to explain why their organisation failed to act over abuse at Whorlton Hall in County Durham four years before an abusive regime was exposed by an undercover BBC reporter.

Harriet Harman, the Labour chair of the joint committee on human rights, asked Dr Paul Lelliott, CQC’s deputy chief inspector of hospitals and its mental health lead, and Ian Trenholm, its chief executive, why their organisation had “suppressed” a critical inspection report about Whorlton Hall, written in 2015, which was never published.

Harman said she did not understand why Lelliott had appeared so surprised at allegations passed to him in the Panorama documentary when a draft report written by CQC’s own inspectors in 2015 had included allegations of bullying and “inappropriate behaviour” by staff at Whorlton Hall.

The 2015 report said patients in the hospital “did not know how they could protect themselves from abuse”.

The evidence session was part of the committee’s inquiry into the detention and inhuman and degrading treatment experienced by young autistic people and people with learning difficulties in assessment and treatment units and other institutions.

The committee heard that the CQC team sent to inspect Whorlton Hall in 2015 included a person with learning difficulties, as part of the regulator’s experts by experience programme, which sends service-users to assist on inspections of care homes, hospitals and care agencies across England.

But the 2015 report was never published, which led its lead inspector, Stanley Wilkinson, to lodge a complaint with his CQC superiors.

The CQC executive who considered his complaint said it should be published, and Lelliott said it would be, Harman revealed.

But instead of publishing it, CQC sent a smaller, less experienced team of just three members to carry out a second inspection, which failed to mention any allegations of bullying or abuse in its report, concluding instead that standards at Whorlton Hall were “good”.

This second team did not include an expert by experience.

Harman said: “It looks like there was a diligent inspection in 2015, it looks like they discovered what we then saw to our horror on Panorama on our televisions, it looks like CQC didn’t publish that 2015 report, it was suppressed.

There was a row about it, and a strong complaint from the lead inspector, and then the report was supressed despite a commitment to publish it and then a new team was sent in and they produced a report which was a whitewash and said Whorlton Hall was good.”

After Lelliott claimed that the “key findings” of the first report were included in the second report, Harman said: “They were not, because the abuse and bullying had vanished.”

She said Wilkinson had told CQC that this refusal to publish his report “fails in our duty to protect people” and “compromised the safety, care and welfare of patients”, and that the culture within CQC was “toxic”.

Wilkinson had added: “I am raising these issues because I believe something serious could happen which could put CQC under the spotlight.”

Harman told Trenholm and Lelliott: “He was right, wasn’t he?”

Trenholm said he and his colleagues had still not got “to the bottom of what happened during that period” and so had launched an independent review.

And he said that if Wilkinson had thought there was any significant abuse at Whorlton Hall, he would have recommended an “inadequate” rating – instead of “requires improvement” – and CQC would have acted immediately and called police, which would have led to the hospital being forced to close.

Lelliott said that what he saw in the Panorama programme had been “horrifying and sickening”.

But he said the 2015 report had not concluded that abuse was taking place at Whorlton Hall, and he added: “I had no idea that abuse of that type was happening.”

And he insisted that CQC had “a track record of taking decisive action when we have evidence of abuse or malpractice or poor care”, although Whorlton Hall was “a wake-up call for us and for the whole system”.

13 June 2019

 

 

DWP civil servant praises UN poverty report ministers dismissed as ‘barely believable’

A senior Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) official has told MPs that a highly-critical UN report on poverty in the UK was “factually correct” and “made a lot of good points”, despite ministers repeatedly attacking its accuracy.

Donna Ward, DWP’s policy director for children, families and disadvantage, told the work and pensions select committee yesterday (Wednesday) that the report by Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, made “really good points” on issues such as austerity and cuts to local government spending.

Ministers have consistently dismissed Alston’s report, with minister for disabled people Sarah Newton, who has since resigned, claiming last November – following the publication of his preliminary report – that he had made “factual errors”.

And in May, after Alston published his final report, DWP described it as “a barely believable documentation of Britain, based on a tiny period of time spent here” that “paints a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty”.

Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, reportedly claimed that Alston had not carried out enough research and apparently threatened to lodge a formal complaint with the UN.

But Ward has now told MPs on the committee – during an evidence session on the impact of universal credit – that DWP has carried out a “fact check” on the report and has concluded that Alston “made a lot of good points” and that his report was “factually correct”.

She said: “I think where the secretary of state took issue with it and where I as a civil servant can’t be involved was the political interpretation of a lot of what’s happened.

But in terms of the facts, in terms of austerity, and cuts to local government funding, in terms of the reliance that we have on the labour market and the risk that we have if there was a recession, all of those things were really good points that we have taken on board, we should take on board.”

SNP’s Chris Stephens said Ward’s comments were “quite revealing” because the rapporteur’s report was “very often pooh-poohed” by ministers and some Tory backbenchers.

Will Quince, the junior minister for family support, housing and child maintenance, said he took such reports “incredibly seriously”.

He said: “I’m not going to say I don’t regret the quite inflammatory language and in some cases quite overtly political tone of the report but there are areas in there that of course I recognise and I know that we need to do a considerable amount of work on and any report of that nature is always going to highlight areas.”

Alston said in his preliminary and final reports that government policies such as cuts to public spending and “highly regressive” changes to taxes and benefits suggested that the UK government had breached the “principle of non-discrimination enshrined in international law”.

He also said that figures from the Social Metrics Commission showed that 14 million people, a fifth of the population, were living in poverty and nearly half of them were from families in which someone was disabled.

And he said that many disabled people’s families had been “driven to breaking point” by cuts to social care.

13 June 2019

 

 

Union backs DPAC campaign to dump newspapers over universal credit adverts

A trade union has backed disabled activists who are removing thousands of copies of a newspaper every week from their public distribution points over its publication of government advertising features that are air-brushing concerns about universal credit (UC).

The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU) voted unanimously at its annual conference on Tuesday (11 June) to support the campaign against the Metro free newspaper, which is being led by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

Members of Sheffield DPAC have been leading the Metro campaign, which has seen photographs and videos posted on social media showing activists removing scores of copies of the Metro so they can be recycled.

In one post this week, Sheffield DPAC said thousands of Metro copies had been taken out of circulation by hundreds of activists across Britain, adding: “We will not leave these lies on the shelves. Universal credit is ruining people’s lives.”

The Metro advertorials are part of a nationwide Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) campaign that it claims will “myth-bust the common inaccuracies” reported on universal credit.

But Ian Hodson, BFAWU’s president, told Disability News Service (DNS): “We don’t agree with it. Tax-payers’ money being used for adverts about something that’s untrue.

It’s a lie and we know it’s a lie. What they are trying to do is propaganda and it’s unfair.

We agree with dumping them, burning them, whatever, just taking them out of the public domain and getting a public apology actually for the waste of taxpayers’ money.”

He added: “If they want to do that, what they should do is have two versions: the government version and then a version given by people who are impacted by it, for some balance, and they should fund that as well.”

He said so many benefit claimants were taking their own lives, having their benefits cut, struggling financially and losing their homes, and yet the government “mislead and lie to people over the reality of it”.

He said DWP’s Metro advertising campaign was about “stopping people from being able to speak out and telling what the reality of being under this regime is”.

DNS confirmed last month that DWP had breached Civil Service guidelines when it decided to launch the nine-week series of “unethical and misleading” Metro advertising features without including a government logo.

This week, employment minister Alok Sharma said in a written parliamentary answer that the Metro campaign would run for another six weeks, and DWP would announce how much it had cost after it ended.

Only last week, DPAC released new research which detailed media reports on universal credit published between January and May this year, which it said was “a damning record of UC systemic and catastrophic failures”.

It said then that UC had reached a point where it was “unable to adapt to claimants’ complex circumstances, and is forcing people with the least resources into further poverty, homelessness, and hunger”. 

DPAC said it was calling for UC to be scrapped because it had become a social security system “which not only does not offer security, but actively undermined people’s ability to cope with the hazards of life”.

Neil Couling, director general of the universal credit programme, told MPs on the work and pensions select committee yesterday (Wednesday) that he could not introduce vital improvements to UC immediately because the system would not be able to cope.

The maximum rate at which deductions can be made from UC payments to repay an advance will be reduced from 40 per cent to 30 per cent of the standard allowance, but only from October.

And the period over which UC advance payments can be recovered by DWP will be extended from 12 to 16 months, but only from October 2021.

Labour’s Ruth George told Couling and Will Quince, the junior minister for family support, housing and child maintenance: “If these are things that need doing, surely they need doing now for the 840,000 households that are suffering deductions at this moment now and the further 1.5 million that are likely to be suffering them by this time next year.”

Couling and Quince had been called to answer questions about evidence taken by the committee on the link between UC and an increase in “survival sex”, or sex in exchange for money to help meet claimants’ most basic needs.

Couling said the number of people receiving UC was now growing by 130,000 a month so the only way he could introduce changes would be by scheduling them “carefully”.

Quince added: “There’s not another week goes by that I don’t ask [Couling] for another change to UC and you see his head goes into his hands as I ask for another request.”

He added: “The system can only accommodate so many changes at one time.”

But George said: “Do you not understand that the actual claimants are the people whose heads are in their hands because they don’t see a way out of the situation?

I’m sorry, but that answer is not good enough.”

Couling replied: “Our absolute priority has to be the maintenance of the system.

There are currently now two million people on it and they depend on payments every month from that and I’m not prepared to take steps that will jeopardise that despite the fact that I would like to introduce these changes quicker than we can.”

13 June 2019

 

 

Archive launch will shine spotlight on impact of disabled people’s movement

The largest single archive of material detailing the birth, growth and impact of the disabled people’s movement in the UK over the last half-century will be launched in Manchester next week.

The GMCDP Archive consists of about 160 boxes of documents, books, photographs, posters, badges, magazines, newspaper cuttings, postcards, reports and even tee-shirts, some dating back to the late 1960s.

The project began 14 years ago when Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) conducted a feasibility study on setting up a national archive of documents and artefacts connected with the disabled people’s movement.

This led to “spontaneous” donations of material, both by disabled people and disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), a flow of items which continues today.

That material has now found a home in Archives+, a purpose-built centre for archives and family history set within Manchester Central Library.

Most of it will gradually become open to the public, although permission from GMCDP will be needed to view some of the papers, while a few will remain confidential.

An archive of material from the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) – which played a hugely-significant role in the birth of the movement – will also be deposited with Archives+, alongside the GMCDP archive.

GMCDP said the UPIAS archive would be deposited due to the hard work and dedication of Tony Baldwinson, a long-time ally of the disabled people’s movement and husband of the late Lorraine Gradwell, a GMCDP co-founder.

As well as offering a permanent home for the artefacts, Archives+ has provided support with cataloguing and preserving the archive, working alongside Linda Marsh, GMCDP’s archive development worker.

But only a small part of the archive has been catalogued, and GMCDP is hoping to secure funding for further work.

Archives+ has estimated it will take a full-time worker 18 months to catalogue the entire archive.

Marsh said they had only “scratched the surface” of what was in the archive, with about 20 of 160 boxes of material summarised so far.

She said: “Even if it’s with unpaid volunteers, it will continue. The commitment is within GMCDP and Archives+ to push this forward.”

Part of the reason for the launch is to highlight the importance of archiving important material about the movement.

Marsh said: “It’s just making people aware that we need to preserve this history.

It’s so important. Every time somebody dies, we lose what’s in their head.

And quite often we lose the artefacts that they had as well. It’s not just papers, it’s the badges, tee-shirts, postcards, books. Anything that shows our history is really important.”

She added: “It’s important because, as disabled people, we have made such a significant impact on society in the last 30 years.

We recognise it ourselves in the movement, but it’s not as recognised in the mainstream as some other aspects of social change.

It’s just so important to preserve this for our own knowledge and our ability to see our own identity and where we have come from, particularly for disabled people in the future.”

She said the documents she has been most excited to uncover were hand-written planning notes for a rally in Manchester of the Disability Benefits Consortium in 1991, along with the parking permit for the van that was carrying the stage for the event.

She said: “It’s all well and good having photographs and postcards, they look really good, but what the archive has is the background detail.”

If there is one document she would like to find, it is something from a black disabled people’s organisation called Spectrum that she remembers from the 1990s.

She said: “There is such a lack of DPOs now that are specifically for black and minority ethnic people, it would be a shame if the knowledge of what went before was to go.”

Marsh is keen for disabled people and DPOs to donate or loan more material from the archive to GMCDP, or to identify an archive in their local area.

And she issued a plea to DPOs to look after their archive material and not throw it away.

She said: “Whatever your organisation is doing, whether it’s a protest or a letter to your MP or organising a lobby of MPs, don’t throw anything away.

If you’re storing it electronically, store it in at least two places, preferably three. Don’t think that things aren’t worth keeping.”

The launch on Wednesday (19 June) will include speeches from Judy Hunt, wife of the late Paul Hunt, UPIAS co-founder in the early 1970s; Martin Pagel, a GMCDP co-founder and former deputy leader of Manchester City Council; and Deaf actor and activist Ali Briggs, best-known for playing Freda in Coronation Street.

For more details of the launch, visit GMCDP’s website.

13 June 2019

 

 

Nursing regulator cleared more than 200 nurses over PIP and WCA complaints

A regulator failed to find a single nurse “not fit to practise” despite more than 220 complaints about face-to-face disability benefit assessments carried out for government contractors, its own figures have revealed.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) figures show it dealt with 224 complaints about the way nurses carried out personal independence payment (PIP) assessments and work capability assessments (WCAs) in 2016 and 2017.

But not one of those complaints led to the regulator concluding the assessor was not fit to continue to work as a nurse.

In 2016, of 88 complaints dealt with, 87 were closed in the initial “screening” process and one nurse was found to have “no case to answer”.

The following year, of 136 complaints, 129 were closed in screening, four nurses were found to have no case to answer, while one led to the conclusion that the nurse’s fitness to practise was not impaired, and two complaints had not been concluded.

Only two months ago, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) said it had found widespread mishandling by NMC of complaints it had received about the way nurses had carried out PIP assessments.

PSA found a string of failings, including a refusal to consider all the concerns raised by complainants.

It also found that NMC relied on the findings of government PIP contractors Atos and Capita to justify closing cases about their employees, and failed to consider crucial documentary evidence, often ignoring the evidence of the person who had lodged the complaint, and failing to ask them for further information.

NMC also told some complainants that the role of PIP assessor was not relevant to the nurse’s fitness to practise, unless it involved dishonesty.

The new figures suggest NMC’s problems extend to complaints about nurses who have carried out WCAs on behalf of the government contractor Maximus.

Disability News Service (DNS) spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty by PIP assessors in late 2016 and throughout 2017, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of their benefits.

It continues to receive such reports today, more than two-and-a-half years after the investigation began.

NMC released the new figures under the Freedom of Information Act to Andrew Hill, from Norfolk, who has himself lodged a complaint with the regulator about the nurse who carried out his face-to-face PIP assessment in 2017 on behalf of Capita.

An appeal tribunal found the nurse had been “unreliable” and that her “incorrect and inaccurate findings” about his mental health condition contributed to him having his benefits cut.

Hill has diabetes, and has had one leg amputated, and has further serious diabetes-related impairments which are “fluctuating and unreliable” and have left him with significant support needs.

He had asked for a reassessment of his PIP because his health had deteriorated and he had lost his partner and carer.

But the nurse’s assessment instead led to him losing his PIP enhanced rate of mobility, as well as points on his daily living component – for which he had previously been granted the standard rate.

A subsequent mandatory reconsideration of its initial decision by the Department for Work and Pensions restored him to the enhanced mobility rate of PIP but left his daily living component unaffected.

An appeal tribunal last July allowed his appeal and confirmed his enhanced rate of mobility as well as awarding him the enhanced rate of PIP daily living for the first time.

Meanwhile, he has lodged a complaint with Capita and the NMC about the nurse who assessed him.

NMC is still investigating his complaint. Capita has not yet ruled on his complaint against the nurse.

Matthew McClelland, NMC’s director of fitness to practise, said: “After the PSA published its report, we acknowledged that our approach to PIP-related cases fell short of what is expected. We didn’t get things right and I am sorry for that.

Since 2018, we have taken action to address these concerns. We have reviewed our processes, improved our quality checks, and enhanced management oversight of cases.”

DNS has now asked for NMC’s 2018 figures through a freedom of information request.

13 June 2019

 

 

Bus company’s ‘indefensible’ failure over wheelchair spaces

A bus and tram company has been criticised for an “indefensible and shocking” failure to comply with a high-profile Supreme Court victory on the rights of wheelchair-users to use buses.

Blackpool Transport has now been forced to back down after being challenged about information on its website that describes the company’s policy on access to the wheelchair spaces on its buses.

In January 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that another bus company had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act through its “first come, first served” policy on the use of wheelchair spaces.

It was the first case of disability discrimination in service provision to be heard by the country’s highest court, and the victory followed a five-year legal battle by accessible transport activist Doug Paulley.

But Paulley pointed out last week that Blackpool Transport’s accessibility information page also suggested it had a “first come, first served” policy.

The company says on its website: “Some of our buses have space for only one wheelchair user or one pushchair however much of the new fleet is designed to have space for a wheelchair user and a pushchair.

Neither wheelchair users or pushchair users have priority over the other.”

Paulley said this was “indefensible and shocking” and he was backed up by Chris Fry, of Fry Law, the solicitor who represented him throughout his legal battle, who said on Twitter that “wheelchair users DO have priority over pushchairs” and added: “Drivers should do all possible to remove people from the space apart from throw them off.”

Stephen Brookes, the minister for disabled people’s rail sector champion for disability, a former non-executive director of Blackpool Transport, also criticised the company.

He stressed that he was speaking for himself, as a disabled user of public transport, and not on behalf of the government.

But he said: “The Blackpool Transport website written policy is not appropriate and needs rewriting to take into account wheelchair requirements on buses, which should be in line with national aims, and more importantly in line with the actual operational signage on the company’s buses.

It is sad that the work of several disabled people and groups in face-to-face training and awareness-raising, leading to successful outcomes, has been put at odds by incorrectly written website ‘policy’.” 

Brookes insisted that bus drivers and other staff in Blackpool were “really on the ball” on access issues and that he believed the problem was with the written document on the company’s website and not the situation on the ground.

Jane Cole, managing director of Blackpool Transport, told Disability News Service that the wording of the information on the company’s website would be changed.

But she claimed the current wording was just “misleading” rather than wrong and that the problem was only with “the way it was worded”.

She claimed the company’s policy had always been that wheelchair-users have priority use of the spaces.

She accepted that the website should make it clear that wheelchair spaces are “a priority for wheelchair-users”, and she said that the wording would be changed “quite soon”.

Following the 2017 Supreme Court ruling, the Department for Transport (DfT) set up a group of advisers, who produced recommendations for action.

DfT welcomed the recommendations “in principle” in March 2018 and announced a further consultation with “a view to bringing forward a package of measures” later in 2018.

But 15 months later, it has still not produced those measures.

A DfT spokesperson said more information on the measures would be released “in due course”.

She said: “We want everyone to be able to use our bus network, and expect operators to comply with relevant legislation.”

But she said it would be “inappropriate” for the government to comment on the policies of individual operators.

She said that 98 per cent of buses in Britain now had a wheelchair space, a boarding ramp or lift and other access features, but “we know there is more to do, which is why our Inclusive Transport Strategy sets out plans to make the entire transport network accessible by 2030”.

13 June 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:56
Jun 032019
 

In response to the DWP’s lies trying to minimise the negative impact of Universal Credit (UC), by commissioning unbranded BBC documentaries and media articles highlighting UC success stories, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) has compiled a damning record of UC systemic and catastrophic failures. 

This record draws on local and national press and media articles, government and research reports.   While the DWP bleat that UC is unfairly vilified the reality is that UC had always been a disaster for claimants and has already wasted millions of pounds.

It has now reached a point where it is unable to adapt to claimants’ complex circumstances, and is forcing people with the least resources into further poverty, homelessness, and hunger.  These failures are driven by ideology. Making claimants wait for their first payment on the pretext that this mirrors the circumstances of working people is another DWP fairytale.

Experts who have looked at UC have also identified design, management and IT issues which cannot be solved by tweaking the system. 

This is why DPAC is calling for UC to be scrapped. It has become a social security system, which not only does not offer security, but actively undermined people’s ability to cope with the hazards of life. 

So far DPAC activists have already removed many thousands of copies of the Metro and will continue to do so whenever a lie about UC is printed. RMT and UNITE members are monitoring each days’ delivery of Metros to help us with this.

We are also calling for a boycott of Reach newspapers which have also in many cases published and republished one case study of one Job Centre manager saying UC works well. Reach’s Director, Helen Stevenson, is coincidentally a former non-executive director of DWP.

Download the Report:

DPAC Report – Hunger Debt Homelessness Crime Prostitution and Suicide – Universal Credit Media Articles – May 2019

Notes for Editors

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) are a campaign group fighting for the rights of disabled people www.dpac.uk.net @dis_ppl_protest

https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/second-newspaper-group-could-be-targeted-over-universal-credit-articles/

Intergenerational worklessness is a lie.

https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/are-cultures-worklessness-passed-down-generations

 

The same DWP propagandist Reach Media articles –over and over again

https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/uk-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-good-thing-helps-2866016

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://twnews.co.uk/gb-news/why-universal-credit-is-actually-a-great-idea

https://www.latest-news-headlines.eu/local/leicester

https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/uk-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/uk-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.grimsbytelegraph.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.belfastlive.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.lincolnshirelive.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.stokesentinel.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686 

https://www.getreading.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.kentlive.news/news/uk-world-news/why-universal-credit-actually-great-2870686

https://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

https://www.leeds-live.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/universal-credit-why-actually-great-16279017

 Posted by at 14:24
May 302019
 

 

Call for help to design a social security system of dignity, respect and trust

Disabled people and others with personal experience of claiming benefits are leading a ground-breaking project to devise a new social security system, in which claimants would be treated with dignity, trust and respect.

The Commission on Social Security, led by Experts by Experience, will seek ideas from other claimants, organisations and academics, before drawing up their own white paper and putting it out for consultation.

They will then launch a campaign to seek public and political approval for their final ideas.

Every one of the commissioners who will produce the white paper has been or is on benefits, and all of them represent grassroots, user-led organisations that fight for the rights of benefit claimants and disabled people.

In a disturbing sign of the current system’s flaws, some of the commissioners have asked not to be publicly named through fear of Department for Work and Pensions reprisals.

They hope that other benefit claimants, thinktanks, academics and civil society organisations will now share their own ideas for how to reform the system after the commission launched a call for evidence, with a deadline of 31 July.

The commissioners have drawn up a list of five key principles on which they believe any new social security system should be based.

They say all claimants should have enough money to live on; should be treated with dignity, respect and trust; should have rights and entitlements; and should have access to free advice and support.

They also say that the system should be clear, simple, user-friendly and accessible, with people with lived experience involved in creating and running it.

Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), and one of the commission’s two co-chairs, told its launch event in London yesterday (Wednesday) that its grassroots, user-led approach could avoid the “mistakes, the harm and the waste that top-down policy-making has led to in recent history”.

She said there was no question that changes to the social security system since 2010 had failed benefit claimants and disproportionately impacted on disabled people.

She said: “The pace of changes to social security that have been brought in, each with their own specific calamitous consequences, has left claimants, disabled people, and the organisations that represent us, fighting a largely rear-guard action as we attempt to mitigate the worst impacts and try what we can to ward off further avoidable harm.

As a consequence, we can easily come across as anti-everything and as having lost the forward vision that used to characterise the disabled people’s movement.”

She said the combination of complex policy changes and user-led groups losing funding and capacity had led the movement to focus on “what is, rather than what could be”.

She said this was why she and fellow campaigners from Inclusion London and London Unemployed Strategies – a group formed by unemployed people and allies in trade unions and the voluntary sector – were so pleased when the original idea for a grassroots, user-led project on the future of social security was first suggested by Dr Michael Orton, from the University of Warwick’s Warwick Institute for Employment Research.

One disabled activist, who was representing the Unite Community union, and is well-known on Twitter as @imajsaclaimant, told the launch event that he shared stories on social media every day showing “how wrong austerity and the welfare system is”.

He said: “It shows that every day there is something new that has been discovered that shows something wrong with the benefit system.

The stories we read each week should shame this country… but the longer it goes on, the more it feels like this cruelty is intentional.”

He described how his own experience of the sanctions regime had led to a suicide attempt and left him with enduring mental and physical health problems.

He said: “The safety net we once had is quickly being taken away, and for much of the time I have felt impotent to change the direction this country is heading in.

This is why I fully endorse this new project today to create a white paper, because it allows us to do more than just moan about what is wrong. It gives us the opportunity to provide solutions.”

He added: “When I go into a jobcentre I start to physically shake. People also tell me that they are scared to go into these places because of the treatment they have received before.

More and more I am hearing from people who say they are unwilling to claim benefits because of this issue. That is simply wrong.

Jobcentres ought to be like valued community hubs… people who lose their jobs need to be supported and treated with respect, not treated with disdain and contempt, as happens so often now.”

George Tahta, from Survivors’ Poetry, told the commission’s launch event that walking into a jobcentre turns him from an “articulate and intelligent” person to “a gibbering effing wreck, and that’s what they do to me and that’s what they do to a lot of people”.

He said staff in jobcentres treat claimants “like dirt”, unless they have a supporter or advocate with them, and even then they “go away and stab you in the back” afterwards with a DWP letter.

The commissioners will be supported by Orton and three other academics and researchers: Dr Rosa Morris, who has personal experience of the work capability assessment and last year completed a PhD examining the assessment process and disability benefits; Dr Kate Summers, from the London School of Economics; and Austin Taylor-Laybourn, from Trust for London.

The commission is funded by Trust for London, which provides about £8 million in grants every year for work that aims to reduce poverty and inequality.

The other co-chair of the commission is Nick Phillips, from LUS, who said: “The commission is a great breakthrough for claimants’ rights to have a say in the shaping of a benefits system that affects their lives profoundly.

We would like as many of those affected as possible to contribute to our call for solutions. This is their opportunity to have a voice and make a difference.”

Bharat Mehta, Trust for London’s chief executive, said: “We’re incredibly excited to be supporting this pioneering project which puts people with experience of the benefits system at the heart of redesigning it.

The system we currently have is not working for far too many people. This project aims to create a consensus around what a new system that works for our society and the individuals in it, would look like.”

30 May 2019

 

 

Inaccessible Peterloo massacre memorial causes protest storm

Disabled activists have criticised a council for pushing ahead with “discriminatory” plans for a memorial to victims of the Peterloo massacre – who died 200 years ago in the cause of equality – that will be completely inaccessible to many disabled people.

The new memorial is set to be unveiled on 16 August, the 200th anniversary of the attack by paramilitary and military forces on more than 60,000 peaceful, pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters in Manchester, which led to 18 deaths and nearly 700 serious injuries.

The memorial will be positioned near what was known in 1819 as St Peter’s Fields, the site of the massacre, and will be outside the current Manchester Central Convention Centre, which just a few weeks after the unveiling will host the Conservative party’s annual conference.

It has been designed by artist Jeremy Deller as a series of concentric circles, with members of the public encouraged to climb the steps to a flat top.

But the memorial, which has been funded by Manchester City Council, will be completely inaccessible to many disabled people, even though it has been designed to allow it to be used as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, mirroring those who spoke during the protest in 1819.

Now a string of disabled activists from Manchester have attacked the council’s refusal to ensure that the memorial is accessible.

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said: “Manchester City Council (MCC) is failing to deliver a fitting memorial.

Their chosen stepped design purposefully excludes disabled people.”

In March, the designs were approved by Manchester City Council’s planning department, despite objections from GMCDP and others during the consultation and planning process and meetings with council leader Sir Richard Leese.

Hilton said: “Manchester has a reputation of pulling together and lining up shoulder to shoulder in defiance of injustice, ignorance and segregation.

We are certain that once the campaign message is more widely heard the public will be as outraged as disabled people are and the council will be forced to listen and make the necessary changes.”

Mark Todd, a former city council access officer, who started a Facebook page to protest at the design of the memorial – and who calls it “a monument to discrimination” – said the group was “angry and shocked” that it was going ahead “despite it being inaccessible to disabled people and others who cannot climb steps”.

They believe this is “an act of exclusion that denies disabled people a voice, a blatant act of discrimination”, with the memorial “set to become a glaring metaphor for inequality and segregation with disabled people at the bottom of the memorial, literally being talked down to”.

The group has called for a “major reworking” of the memorial by Manchester City Council (MCC), to make it accessible to those unable to climb steps, with options “explored in a full, open, transparent and public manner”.

The group said that anything less would be a “breathtaking act of hypocrisy” and “an abandonment of the ideals of liberty and equality which moved those citizens to gather in St Peter’s Fields on 16th August 1819”.

Dennis Queen, from Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “We think MCC choosing to deliberately create a platform inaccessible for all speakers – or signers – sends a clear message against democracy for all in Manchester – the exact opposite of the aims of the memorial.”

Flick Harris, chair of Manchester Disabled People’s Access Group, said she and her colleagues were “shocked” that the council had approved the “newly designed inaccessible and unsafe Peterloo monument”.

She said: “Any new designs and projects should be accessible for everyone or no-one.”

Alan Holdsworth, a former Manchester resident who now lives in the US, where he is a member of the ADAPT grassroots disability rights organisation, said: “As a former Mancunian on behalf of ADAPT we are appalled that in 2019 we still have to fight against segregation and exclusion from the Peterloo massacre memorial.”

Holdsworth, who founded the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) in the UK, said: “What makes us more angry is that although disabled people were part of the consultation process their voices, ideas and reservations were ignored.

We call on the council to halt the process and include disabled people and accessibility in the design.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “While DPAC realise that the new Peterloo memorial is to celebrate the martyrdom of 19th century activists it remains totally unacceptable in what is now the 21st century for any sector of our society – in this case disabled people – to be deliberately excluded from access to that memorial.

We are appalled that disabled people’s concerns have been repeatedly ignored by Manchester City Council and call for an immediate redesign of this structure, together with disabled people, so that all citizens are able to access it equally.”

Although some changes have been made as a result of concerns about access, including the addition of a handrail, it appears that wheelchair-users will still only be able to reach the height of the lowest of the circles via a ramp.

But the council made it clear to DNS yesterday (Wednesday) that it was unlikely that any further major changes would now be made, stating: “We are happy to continue dialogue and explore whether anything further can be done to address concerns but it is unlikely there could be any fundamental changes.”

A council spokesperson said earlier: “We have engaged, and will continue to engage, with people who are disabled in order to make this memorial accessible while recognising that this is not a building or similar structure but a piece of public art.

Significant changes to the original design were made in response to this dialogue throughout the design’s development including the incorporation of a ramp and handrail and the replacement of tiles covering the memorial with stone to reduce slip hazards.

The specific design elements which provide information about Peterloo are all accessible.

We have taken these considerations seriously. While we respect the fact that some people feel that these changes still do not go far enough, we believe we have done the best we realistically can allowing for the constraints of the site, and this is the only feasible site in the original Peter’s Fields area.

Further mooted changes to the approved and already amended design would require new planning approvals and mean the project couldn’t be completed in time for the 200th anniversary commemorations.

Deller, whose work often focuses on political and social themes, expressed sympathy with the position of disabled campaigners and told Disability News Service: “I take responsibility for not considering enough the needs of people in wheelchairs.”

He said further changes were suggested to improve access after the memorial secured planning permission, but he said the council had decided they were “so substantial it would have meant total redesign” and so were “not practical” because work had already begun.

He said he still hoped that “once the memorial is built there might be a way to adapt it for wheelchairs”, but he had not responded by noon today (Thursday) to the council’s position that it was probably too late for further major changes.

A spokesperson for the Peterloo Memorial Campaign, which campaigned for years for a memorial to be built, said disabled people were “right to be frustrated and angry about the lack of access to the monument”.

He said: “In addition to commemorating the massacre, the memorial has been designed as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, but people using wheelchairs or unable to climb steps cannot use it fully.”

He added: “We accept our share of responsibility for not immediately spotting this issue when the design was unveiled.

We have worked with the council, the artist and disabled people involved in or supportive of the Peterloo Memorial Campaign to try and find a ‘retrofit’ solution.

We are disappointed to be informed by the council that no solution is viable in the limited time left available.”

The names of those who died, and the villages and towns of the protesters, will be engraved on the memorial, while those visiting will be shown the direction of other parts of the world where significant protests have taken place, such as Tiananmen Square, Cairo’s Tahrir Square and Gdansk in Poland.

A smaller circle at ground-floor level will reproduce the information so that those who cannot climb the steps will be able to read it.

30 May 2019

 

 

McVey failed to respond to letter about benefit deaths cover-up, DWP admits

A Tory leadership contender left her job as work and pensions secretary without answering key questions from an MP about links between her department and the deaths of benefit claimants, her former department has confirmed.

Esther McVey resigned her position last November in protest at the prime minister’s Brexit deal.

But she left more than three months after receiving a letter from Stephen Lloyd, then a Liberal Democrat and now an independent MP, about claims of a possible cover-up by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

He had written to her after Disability News Service (DNS) reported how DWP was refusing to say if it showed key documents linking the deaths of claimants with the work capability assessment (WCA) to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert the government hired to review the test in 2013 and 2014.

He carried out the fourth and fifth reviews of the WCA but has refused to say if he was shown two letters written by coroners and a number of secret DWP “peer reviews”.

Litchfield, who was recognised by the prime minister with a CBE in last June’s birthday honours, published his two reviews in December 2013 and November 2014, but neither of his reports mentioned the documents, which all link the WCA with the deaths of claimants.

In his letter to McVey, Lloyd said he found it “astonishing” that Litchfield appeared not to have been shown the documents.

He added: “In light of Dr Litchfield being awarded a CBE, could you please confirm whether or not he was shown the documents linking the government’s WCA program with the deaths of benefit claimants?”

Weeks later, having failed to receive a reply, the MP wrote a follow-up letter to McVey.

He never received a reply.

This week, DWP claimed it could not comment because McVey was no longer with the department, while McVey’s office claimed it was for DWP to answer any questions about the failure to reply.

A DWP spokesperson said: “As his letter was sent to Esther McVey I can’t say why a response wasn’t sent.”

But a spokesperson for McVey said: “Although the letter was addressed to Esther, the ministerial correspondence team will have forwarded it to the correct person to respond.

In this case, it would not have been the secretary of state.

I am sorry I am not able to provide further information, it would be a matter for the Department for Work and Pensions to address.”

Lloyd said this week: “It’s absolutely deplorable that Esther McVey, when she was secretary of state at the DWP, simply didn’t bother to respond to my letter which was first sent on the 2nd of August last year.

My office even followed her up twice, but still nothing.

This showed a total reluctance by her and the DWP to engage on what were and are shocking allegations.

To think that she’s now trying to become the new Conservative leader and even, god help us, prime minister, beggars belief.”

Since DNS revealed the existence of the documents in the years after Litchfield’s final report was published, concerns have grown that senior DWP civil servants and ministers deliberately covered-up evidence showing the fatal impact of the assessment on disabled people.

The admission that McVey failed to respond to Lloyd’s letter adds weight to calls in the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition* for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants or government ministers to be passed to the police.

It also calls for MPs to recognise that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.

The cover-up over the benefit deaths documents appeared to be confirmed earlier this month when DNS revealed how DWP had finally admitted failing to send Litchfield’s review team the coroners’ letters and the internal reviews.

The admission came in DWP’s response to a complaint lodged by DNS with the Information Commissioner’s Office about the department’s failure to confirm if it passed the information to Litchfield.

A senior ICO case officer told DNS: “Consultation with the ex-review team elicited statements that no such information was received from DWP nor were any physical files sent to stores.”

The coroner’s letters followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013; they were sent to DWP in the spring of 2010 and early 2014, each warning of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.

Peer reviews – now known as internal process reviews – must be carried out by DWP civil servants into every death “where suicide is associated with DWP activity”, as well as other deaths and serious and complex cases that have been linked to DWP activity.

DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.

One of the aims of a peer review is to “determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved”, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not have been shown to Litchfield, whose job it was to review how the WCA was working.

But neither of Litchfield’s reviews mentioned either the peer reviews or the coroners’ letters, although the second coroner’s letter was not written until he had begun work on his second review.

Professor Malcolm Harrington, who carried out the first three WCA reviews in 2010, 2011 and 2012, has told DNS that he believes he was shown neither the first coroner’s letter nor any WCA-related peer reviews.

To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

30 May 2019

 

 

Activists begin direct action over universal credit newspaper ads

Disabled activists across the country have removed thousands of copies of a national newspaper from their public distribution points after it began publishing a series of advertising features that will air-brush concerns about universal credit.

Members of Sheffield Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) are now promising to “step up the campaign” against the Metro free newspaper.

They have even offered a prize of a DPAC tee-shirt for the most creative way in which an activist can recycle or reuse a copy of the Metro, and so prevent the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) advertising features being read.

Photographs show all the copies of the Metro at Sheffield train station being removed in a suitcase – while a similar action took place in Ipswich – with Sheffield DPAC encouraging people to “get to your local Metro newspaper stands and help us by removing the Metros from the shelves”.

It adds: “Re-use them, recycle them, just don’t leave these LIES on the stands.”

And it warns: “This nonsense is going to be going on for nine weeks from this week and each week we will be stepping up this campaign […] we are absolutely not giving up […] if anything it just makes us angrier and more determined.”

Sheffield DPAC has also warned all the companies advertising in Metro that thousands of potential readers would not see the adverts they had paid for because DPAC activists “have removed thousands of copies of the newspaper” from stations, buses, trains and trams around the UK.

A spokesperson for Metro – which is run by the company that owns the Daily Mail – said: “Metro is a non-partisan newspaper, which carries advertisements for a range of clients, including government departments and unions.

Metro takes advertising standards seriously and requires our advertisers to comply with all laws and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) code.

The Department for Work and Pensions has informed us that the advertising was reviewed by the ASA’s copy advice team prior to publication.

Metro is happy with this process.”

The protests come as DPAC is set to release a report detailing “the reality of universal credit”, with links to hundreds of newspaper stories from across the UK that have reported on the real damage caused by UC, and were published over a period of just 16 weeks between 20 January and 12 May 2019.

The report contains “harrowing stories of people forced into debt, rent arrears, homelessness, crime, prostitution, hunger, people unable to afford fares to get to food banks, parents unable to get essentials for their babies, child poverty, worsening mental health, ex-service people considering suicide and even cases of actual suicide”.

Meanwhile, Disability News Service (DNS) has confirmed that DWP breached Civil Service guidelines when it decided to launch the nine-week series of “unethical and misleading” adverts without including a government logo.

The Government Communication Service’s “branding guidelines” make it clear that “all government campaigns and comms should be government branded to ensure transparency and accountability”. 

The guidelines also say: “It is important that the public is easily able to recognise the work of government, departments, their agencies and Arms Length Bodies.”

But the first of DWP’s universal credit advertorials published by the Metro newspaper last week included no government logos.

The second advertisement feature, which appeared yesterday (Wednesday) in the Metro, also failed to include a government logo.

The only reference to the source of the advertorials is a line – which is even less obvious on the Metro website – that states: “ADVERTISEMENT FEATURE FROM THE DEPARTMENT FOR WORK AND PENSIONS.”

A leaked DWP memo, signed by three senior servants – including Neil Couling, director general of the universal credit programme – proves the failure to include a government logo on the advertorials was intentional.

The memo admitted that the nine-week series of advertorials in the Metro were designed to be misleading.

It said: “The features won’t look or feel like DWP or UC – you won’t see our branding, and this is deliberate.”

The Metro advertorials are part of a nationwide DWP campaign to “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC”.

They will cost DWP hundreds of thousands of pounds, and have already led to complaints being lodged with ASA.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for overseeing the guidelines, said they were “at the end of the day guidelines and this is a DWP campaign”.

She said the Cabinet Office was “content that the materials clearly stated that it was an advertising feature from DWP”.

She pointed to information provided to DNS last week by DWP, which stated that advertising features “are generally developed to give the same look and feel as the publication they are being placed in – while clearly stating who produced the material”.

DWP also said last week that its first advertorial “clearly stated that it was an advertising feature from the Department for Work and Pensions”.

But Natasha Hirst, chair of the equalities council of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), who also has the disabled members’ seat on NUJ’s national executive council, said: “There appears to be a breach of the government’s own guidelines on communications, as raised by the NUJ last week.

The advertorials are shockingly poor practice but are not the only problem.

We are concerned that the integrity of journalism could be called into question by biased and uncritical features in publications.

It is vital that journalism remains independent of political interference.

The erosion of trust created by orchestrated visits to jobcentres and government-placed advertorials that dismiss people’s harsh experiences of universal credit is something we must all fight.

It is incredibly poor judgement for the Cabinet Office to show no willingness to criticise misleading communications from the DWP.”

Linda Burnip, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said the “disgraceful and fabricated” Metro ad campaign “shows just how much UC is a total failure” and how concerned DWP is about its roll out and consequences.

She added: “However, even for Rudd and her DWP minions this is beyond contempt.”

30 May 2019

 

 

Second newspaper group could be targeted over universal credit articles

A second national newspaper group is facing a boycott and possible direct action protests over a Department for Work and Pensions campaign that aims to improve the reputation of its “toxic” universal credit benefit system.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) is calling for a boycott of Reach, the largest national and regional news publisher in the UK, while other disabled activists have called for direct action aimed at the publisher.

A campaign of direct action is already underway against the publisher of the Metro free newspaper, which is being paid hundreds of thousands of pounds by DWP to publish a series of advertorials praising UC (see separate story).

Now Reach, the newspaper group which publishes titles such as the Manchester Evening News, Birmingham Mail and Bristol Post, but also the national Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Sunday People, Daily Record and Daily Star, is also facing the possibility of a boycott and direct action protests.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how regional Reach newspapers were criticised for running at least three positive and misleading articles about universal credit, which all focus on local DWP staff praising the impact it has had locally and either dismissing or ignoring its well-publicised flaws.

Two of the articles were re-published by other newspapers in the same group, with one of them published by at least 15 other newspapers.

Now another article published by a regional Reach newspaper has emerged, which gives a glowing account of the efforts of DWP staff to support disabled people who have been found fit for work, and the impact of universal credit (UC).

In the wake of the articles, Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “DPAC has seen the succession of articles, which are little more than advertisement pieces for universal credit, copied across local titles owned by Reach. 

People need to be informed that this is a campaign of propaganda rather than news and we suggest that people do not buy Reach titles.”

And Sheffield DPAC, which has led the campaign against the Metro, said it would also like to see action taken against Reach publications.

Another leading disabled activist, who tweets at @imajsaclaimant, also called for direct action protests targeted at Reach publications.

He said: “I am so angry about it. The thing is that Reach seem to have got away with it [compared with the Metro].

I see what Sheffield DPAC have been doing [with the Metro]. We should be doing the same [with Reach publications].

They should not be able to get away with it.”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has made it clear that it will not support calls for boycotts of newspapers because they may affect the livelihoods of fellow journalists, including disabled journalists.

But Natasha Hirst, chair of NUJ’s equalities council, who also has the disabled members’ seat on the union’s national executive council, said: “We are concerned that the integrity of journalism could be called into question by biased and uncritical features in publications.

It is vital that journalism remains independent of political interference.

The erosion of trust created by orchestrated visits to jobcentres and government-placed advertorials that dismiss people’s harsh experiences of universal credit is something we must all fight.”

The concerns about the Reach articles come as DPAC is set to release a report detailing “the reality of universal credit”, with links to hundreds of newspaper articles from across the UK that have reported on the real damage caused by UC, and were published over a period of just 16 weeks between 20 January and 12 May 2019.

The report contains “harrowing stories of people forced into debt, rent arrears, homelessness, crime, prostitution, hunger, people unable to afford fares to get to food banks, parents unable to get essentials for their babies, child poverty, worsening mental health, ex-service people considering suicide and even cases of actual suicide”.

The Newcastle Chronicle article – which was also published by the Bristol Live website, with minor amendments – is headlined: “What happens when the DWP deems a disabled person fit for work – according to Jobcentre worker.”

It says the government has “come under fire for deeming people who are living with disabilities fit for work”, while the paper has “reported numerous stories about North East residents being faced with the daunting prospect of returning after being declared fit for work” by DWP.

It then says: “As more people are put onto Universal Credit, we met with staff at Newcastle Jobcentre to find out what happens when a person with a disability is deemed fit?” [sic]

The rest of the article is a series of comments by a DWP disability employment advisor, with no attempt to put them into context, or secure comments from welfare rights experts or campaigners who have spent years highlighting the flaws and dangers of universal credit.

The advisor even suggests in the article that, rather than disabled people found fit for work being forced unfairly into employment, they are often just asked to attend “pie and socialising” clubs or walking groups.

She insists that DWP “have to go with what people are telling us they feel able to do”.

The reporter who wrote the article, Kali Lindsay, told DNS she had written numerous articles over the last four or five months that were critical of DWP and UC – including one just three weeks ago about a man with a chronic lung condition who had his benefits cut after being found fit for work.

She said DWP had invited her paper to send a reporter to speak to jobcentre staff, which had allowed her to “find out what they were saying and put to them what people’s criticisms were of the service” and “explain how they felt about it”.

She said that DWP had a “right of reply” to the previous stories that had been written by her newspaper.

Lindsay said she did not believe there had been any pressure placed on her paper by DWP to run the articles, which were part of a series being published by the Chronicle on various aspects of the jobcentre’s work, and that her paper had seen it as a “good opportunity to go inside the jobcentre and find out more details”.

But she insisted that she was personally angry with how DWP treated people, and will “fight their corner”, and that she had put questions from stories she had covered over the last two years to the advisor when she spoke to her, with the advisor’s answers appearing in the article.

Lindsay said she had not yet seen a leaked DWP memo which revealed that the department was engaged in a “front-footed strategy” to fight back against what it called “negativity and scaremongering” by the media and “tackle misconceptions and improve the reputation of UC”.

The memo said this included writing to journalists like those at the Chronicle to “come and see for themselves the great work we do”.

Reach refused to comment on its latest article, but said it stood by last week’s comments, in which it defended its decision to run one article, and said the company frequently syndicated articles of interest, while it had published more than 1,100 articles in the last 12 months on UC, most of them “critical”.

But it has still refused to respond to questions about the DWP memo, and suggestions that the company has become caught up in DWP’s “myth-busting” campaign, and it still insists that there has been no “undue pressure, financial or otherwise” to publish any of the stories.

The positive account given by the disability employment advisor the Chronicle spoke to about DWP’s fit-for-work processes contrasts with years of evidence linking the deaths of disabled people with DWP decisions to find them fit for work.

In 2015, government-funded research by public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford concluded that the programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the WCA was linked to 590 suicides in just three years.

Only three months ago, the Independent Case Examiner concluded that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case of mother-of-nine Jodey Whiting*, who had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment, and took her own life just 15 days later.

DNS has reported on many other such cases, including that of Alan McArdle, who had been placed in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance and had a fatal heart attack an hour after being told DWP was threatening to stop his benefits.

Then there was Luke Alexander Loy, who died just three months after being found fit for work and then having his benefits sanctioned, despite his doctor explaining that he was not currently well enough to work.

Other deaths linked to DWP’s fitness for work process include that of Moira Drury, reported by the Guardian in 2015; Sheila Holt, whose death was reported by the Daily Mirror – part of the Reach group – in March 2015; Karen Sherlock, who died in 2012 after fighting for two years against the injustice of the WCA regime; and Mark Wood, who starved to death in 2013 after he was found fit for work through the WCA system, and lost his out-of-work disability benefits.

DNS also reported last month how DWP destroyed a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.

*To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

30 May 2019

 

 

Activists call for closure of all long-stay hospitals after Whorlton Hall scandal

Disabled people from across Europe have called for the closure of long-stay institutions, after the latest in a long series of abuse scandals was uncovered by the BBC.

Four European disability organisations – including the umbrella organisation representing 80 million disabled people across the continent – have joined UK disabled activists in calling for action to end institutionalisation and forced treatment.

A Panorama documentary, which included undercover footage shot at the private Whorlton Hall hospital for people with learning difficulties and autistic people in County Durham, caused outrage after it was broadcast last week.

Seven men and three women – all members of staff – have been arrested by Durham police and are being questioned about offences relating to abuse and neglect, while the Care Quality Commission (CQC), the health and care watchdog, was criticised for failing to spot and halt the abuse.

Now disabled people and their user-led organisations have called again for the government to take action and close all such long-stay institutions.

Disabled activist Simone Aspis, director of the consultancy Changing Perspectives, who campaigns to free disabled people from institutions, said: “There is something very fundamentally wrong about these institutions and they have to close down.”

She added: “We can’t make a fundamentally flawed system work better by simply having a better ratio of staffing, more resources put in, or more training, or better recruitment practices.

A system that compels people into treatment they don’t want and denies them their fundamental human rights cannot train people to deprive people of their human rights in a positive way.

What we need is the transferring of resources into support that people need to be part of their communities.

It is an absolute disgrace that in this country we are allowed to have such barbaric torture and practices going on.”

She said there was no “political will” to find a solution and no urgency from the NHS to remove people from institutions.

Instead of “thinking creatively” about new placements, she said, NHS commissioners “just want to shove people in wherever there is a bloody bed, not thinking creatively about how we can support these people to live in the community”.

Aspis also said she was “very disappointed” with the failure of CQC and the Children’s Commissioner to recommend the closure of such institutions in their latest reports earlier this month.

People First (Self Advocacy), which is run and controlled by people with learning difficulties, said it was horrified to learn of the new abuse scandal.

It pointed out that promises were made after a previous scandal at Winterbourne View in 2011 to close all such institutions, and that the government had failed to live up to its promises or meet targets set by NHS England after Winterbourne View.

It is calling on the government to introduce a legal right to independent living for disabled people, by incorporating article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into UK law.

People First’s #CloseATUs campaign is calling for the closure of all assessment and treatment centres and for people to have the advocacy and support they need in their local communities, as well as for the government to draw up a national action plan for all ATUs to be closed within two years.

Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), said: “As with Winterbourne, the news of Whorlton Hall brought tears, upset and anger to me and many other people I know.

Our thoughts go to all of the people who experienced this abuse. We need to make sure this does not happen again.

Moving people to other closed institutions like Whorlton Hall is obviously not the answer.

People are being sent far away from friends and family at great cost to the authorities and at even greater and more tragic cost to people with learning difficulties and their loved ones.”

Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people, said the latest revelations were “horrifying, though unsurprising”.

She said: “Whether it’s Winterbourne View, Whorlton Hall or who knows how many others, there is a level of contempt that we face as autistic people and people with intellectual disabilities when it comes to our long-term health that is shortening our lifespans and damaging the lives that we live.

There is a very good reason why the suicide rate amongst autistic people is nine times higher than the national average.”

She called for “ground up” reform of CQC, which she said was “ineffective” and had “no protective instinct”.

In a joint statement, the European Disability Forum – an umbrella organisation of disabled people’s organisations – and three European disability organisations (Inclusion Europe, Autism Europe and European Down Syndrome Association), also called for the closure of such institutions.

They said: “This kind of treatment and abuse is widespread in institutions.

Too many times, we have heard and seen footage like this. Too many times we have witnessed attacks on the most basic human rights of persons with disabilities. Too many times we have witnessed governments failing to act.

Institutionalisation has to end. Forced treatment has to end. These flagrant abuses of the most basic human rights have to end.”

But Whorlton Hall is only the latest in a long line of such scandals that stretches back to the 1940s.

Calls to address the scandal of people with learning difficulties living “inappropriately” in long-stay institutions date back more than 70 years to when the National Council for Civil Liberties launched a campaign against eugenicist laws that led at their peak to the institutionalisation of more than 50,000 people in long-stay hospitals.

A series of scandals through the late 1960s and 1970s highlighted concerns similar to those uncovered by Panorama and other more recent scandals, with inquiries reporting cruel ill-treatment, inhumane and threatening behaviour towards patients (at Ely Hospital), the “harmful over-use of drugs” (Farleigh Hospital) and the use of tranquilisers and “side-rooms” – or solitary confinement facilities – at South Ockendon Hospital.

They were followed by the Longcare abuse scandal, uncovered by the media in 1994, and others including allegations of neglect at Fieldhead Hospital in Wakefield in 2004, and of abuse at the Solar Centre in Doncaster in 2010, Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust in 2006, Winterbourne View near Bristol in 2011, Mendip House in Somerset in 2016 and Atlas Project Team in 2017.

Cygnet Health Care said in a statement that it was “shocked and deeply saddened by the allegations made against members of staff at Whorlton Hall, part of the Danshell Group, which Cygnet recently acquired.

We take these allegations extremely seriously, have suspended all members of staff involved, and informed all relevant authorities including the police, who have instigated an inquiry, and we are cooperating fully with their investigation.

We have a zero tolerance of this behaviour. This appalling behaviour is entirely inconsistent with our values and high standards, and we have transferred all the patients to other services.

Until the conclusion of the police investigation, we are unable to comment further.”

30 May 2019

 

 

Should DRC rise again? Sir Bert asks in posthumous autobiography

An autobiography by one of the most influential disabled people of the last 50 years – published posthumously – could ignite calls for the return of the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), 12 years after it was merged into a new equality watchdog.

In A Life Without Limits*, Sir Bert Massie – who was DRC’s chair throughout its seven years – writes in depth about his time leading the equality body and then as a commissioner on its successor, the multi-strand Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

He suggests EHRC has failed to protect disabled people and that many disabled people believe responsibility for disability rights should be taken away from the organisation, with a new DRC set up alongside EHRC.

Sir Bert, who died in October 2017, is highly critical of EHRC’s first chair, Trevor Phillips, who he says was “not a team player” and “made policy on the hoof” while other commissioners were “supposed to step into line”.

He concludes: “I have sat on many boards larger than that at EHRC, but none so badly chaired.”

Although a staunch and long-standing Labour party member himself, Sir Bert is also critical of the number of commissioners with strong Labour party links who were appointed to EHRC’s board under the last Labour government.

In the book, Sir Bert is critical of the Labour peer Baroness [Margaret] Prosser, EHRC’s vice-chair at the time, who became a “very loyal supporter” of Phillips.

He writes at length on the concerns of himself and other board members about Phillips’s conduct and leadership at EHRC, which contributed to six commissioners resigning in 2009.

Sir Bert is also critical in his book of the lack of resources given to EHRC’s disability committee, which led to disabled people receiving “a much inferior service” than they had received from DRC.

He reveals that he had been “unenthusiastic” about merging DRC with other equality bodies to create EHRC in 2007, but that other DRC commissioners who were in favour of the decision “might well have been right” and that an independent DRC could have been abolished under the coalition government elected in 2010.

But he also points to the attack on disability rights under successive Conservative-led governments since 2010, and to a 2016 Lords committee report that concluded that EHRC was failing to protect disabled people.

He adds: “Perhaps in the future we do need a debate on whether disability issues should be removed from the mandate of the EHRC and [given] to a commission with a single focus.

That is what many disabled people want.”

Kaliya Franklin, who worked with Sir Bert on the commission on disability and poverty he chaired for the Labour party, supported his call for a debate on whether there needed to be a new vehicle for ensuring disabled people’s rights were upheld.

She told Disability News Service: “Disability rights are part of a wider human rights issue, but without the specialist knowledge and peer support provided by a body like the DRC, the risk is that the barriers to achieve those rights are too significant for disabled people to surmount alone.

Last week we saw further evidence that in the Britain of 2019, thousands of disabled children and adults have their freedom, right to family life and privacy removed by the state at an enormous financial cost to taxpayers.

All too often those disabled people are then subjected to physical and mental torture by those employed to ‘care’ for them.

This abuse is not new, yet every time there is a new expose of such human rights violations, the same tired excuses of vulnerability, risks and costs are trotted out by the charity, medical and public sectors with a vested interest in continuing the status quo.

The immoral trade in disabled people continues unabated.

A dedicated disability rights enforcement body with the specialist rights-based knowledge and lived experience to support people and their families is one important way in which this ongoing abuse, and many other forms of disability discrimination, could be more successfully challenged.”

Sir Bert’s book also describes his childhood in Liverpool, how he caught polio in the late 1940s and spent time in Alder Hey children’s hospital and experienced “perpetual violence, or a nagging expectation of it” at the hands of staff at the Greenbank residential special school.

There are detailed descriptions of his experience of education, further and higher education, and employment as a disabled child, teenager and young mans in the 1960s, and his first experiences of disability activism with the Disablement Income Group, Liverpool Association for the Disabled, and the Disabled Drivers’ Association.

He writes about his work at RADAR, which he led before heading the new DRC, and he defends RADAR from criticisms made at the time by the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People (BCODP) that it was not a legitimate representative of the disabled people’s movement.

In the final pages he was able to complete before his death in 2017 – the book was completed by Bob Niven and Ann Frye, two of his former colleagues, who describe him as one of the leading post-war social reformers – he suggests that privatisation of the NHS is “to some extent inevitable” if the Conservatives remain in power, while he predicts there will be further cuts to social care.

Disabled people,” he says, “will need to develop mechanisms to either defend current systems or create new ones.”

But he adds: “Many of the major structural changes achieved in recent decades are probably sufficiently embedded to survive.”

But he warns that these changes could still be weakened, as has happened with accessible housing standards.

*A Life Without Limits, by Sir Bert Massie, is published by Mereo Books

30 May 2019

 

 

Inclusive education campaigners back SEND crisis march

Inclusive education campaigners are supporting parents and their disabled children today (Thursday) as they take part in marches around the country to highlight the special educational needs and disability (SEND) funding crisis.

Parents are calling for reform of the SEND system, increased funding, and improved accountability and assessment, as well as an end to a culture which “encourages the blaming, shaming and dismissal of parents of young people with SEND”.

Marches are set to take place across England and Wales, in more than 25 locations including Liverpool, Yorkshire, Sussex, Birmingham, Derby, Reading and Widnes, with one leading to the handover of a petition in Downing Street.

The SEND National Crisis campaign has been set up by two parents of disabled children, and it has been backed by The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), which said disabled pupils had been increasingly excluded from schools and pushed out of mainstream education.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said: “The funding cuts are creating rife disablism and disability-related discrimination in our mainstream education system.

For the first time in history, more disabled pupils with [education, health and care plans] are being educated in special schools than in mainstream ones.

This needs to stop right now – this government has a duty to promote inclusive education among disabled pupils.”

Nadia Turki, one of the founders of SEND National Crisis, said: “We have decided to act instead of repeatedly say the words ‘we need to do something’.

I’ve been saying this for almost two years now and nothing has changed to the effect of making a positive difference to education provisions and access for disabled children and young people.

We believe that now is the time to stand together and let our voices and the voices of our young people be heard.”

She added: “This crisis is leaving thousands of individuals emotionally and physically exhausted due to the direct failings of our local authorities and the discrimination faced when trying to access their fundamental right to an education.

There are so many of us struggling and battling an unfair system for our children or the people we care for and it is an exhausting process that hammers us into the ground daily.”

Next month, ALLFIE is also supporting a judicial review case being taken at the high court by three families with disabled children.

The families believe inadequate government funding is not allowing councils to fulfil their legal obligations to support disabled pupils.

ALLFIE wants the court to make “an explicit declaration” that the government’s level of funding of SEND is unlawful because it fails to provide the support that disabled pupils need to “flourish within mainstream education on a par with their non-disabled peers”.

It also wants new guidance that will make it clear that the government has to ensure sufficient funding for schools and councils to fulfil their legal duties to “promote the presumption of mainstream education free from disability-related discrimination”.

In response to plans for the march, children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Our ambition is for every child, no matter the challenges they face, to have access to a world class education that sets them up for life.

Funding for the high needs budget is a priority for this government and we know that councils and schools are facing pressures – that’s why in December, we provided an extra £250 million up to 2020 to help manage these costs.

This takes the total amount that we have allocated for high needs funding to £6.3 billion this year, compared to £5 billion in 2013.

At the same time, the education secretary has been clear that we are working closely with the sector as we approach the spending review, we have launched a call for evidence to make sure the funding system is getting money to the right places at the right time and we are revising the SEND code of practice to improve ways to identify and meet special educational needs.”

His department said it also planned to spend £31.6 million to train more educational psychologists, who play an important role in identifying special educational needs and contributing to education, health and care needs assessments.

30 May 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:08
May 292019
 

join the monthly protest at Caxton House, Tothill Street, London organised by Kilburn Unemployed Workers’ Group (KUWG)  which this month will include their views on the outrageous lies being told by DWP with their false adverts for Universal Credit in the scum Mail partner paper the Metro.

Please continue to remove as many Metros as possible every Wednesday for the next 7 weeks from venues where they are available.

 Posted by at 18:46
May 232019
 

Disabled people ‘driven to breaking point’ by cuts, says UN expert

Many disabled people’s families have been “driven to breaking point” by cuts to social care, while other disabled people have been denied benefits and forced by the government into unsuitable work, a UN human rights expert has concluded.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said in his final report on the UK that disabled people were “some of the hardest hit by austerity measures”.

Alston said that cuts to public spending, and “highly regressive” changes to taxes and benefits since 2010 – combined with the government’s “stubborn” refusal to carry out an assessment of the impact of its austerity cuts and reforms on disabled people and other groups – suggested that the UK government’s policies breached the “principle of non-discrimination enshrined in international law”.

The report quotes Equality and Human Rights Commission research that found that some disabled people are set to lose £11,000 on average by 2021–2022, more than 30 per cent of their annual net income.

And it says the UK government’s reforms have often denied benefits to disabled people with high support needs and “pushed them into unsuitable work”, while care for people with mental distress has “deteriorated dramatically”.

The report describes how disabled people told Alston repeatedly when he visited the UK last November about “benefits assessments that were superficial, dismissive, and contradicted the advice of their doctor”.

It adds: “Those with disabilities are also highly vulnerable to cuts in local government services, particularly within social care, which has left them shouldering more of the costs of their care.

This has driven many families with a person with a disability to breaking point.”

Alston said he had reviewed “seemingly endless evidence” that showed the “harsh and arbitrary nature” of some benefit sanctions, and the “devastating effects of losing access to benefits for weeks or months at a time”.

His report adds: “Many detailed studies give substance to the dire consequences for vulnerable claimants who are sanctioned.”

Disabled people are among the groups disadvantaged by the introduction of universal credit, he said, which has “built a digital barrier that obstructs access to benefits”.

He said he had heard “countless stories of severe hardships suffered under UC”, reports that were “corroborated by an increasing body of research that suggests UC is being implemented in ways that negatively impact claimants’ mental health, finances and work prospects”.

The report points out that work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd admitted in February that food bank use has increased in areas where UC has fully rolled out.

Alston said the government had remained in a “state of denial” about the impact of its policies, while it might appear that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) “has been tasked with designing a digital and sanitized version of the nineteenth century workhouse, made infamous by Charles Dickens”.

He accused the government of pursuing an agenda “to reduce benefits by every means available, including constant reductions in benefit levels, ever-more-demanding conditions, harsher penalties, depersonalization, stigmatization, and virtually eliminating the option of using the legal system to vindicate rights”.

But he also said he had witnessed “tremendous resilience, strength and generosity, and heard stories of deeply compassionate work coaches, local officials and volunteers; neighbours supporting one another; councils seeking creative solutions; and charities stepping in to fill holes in government services”.

Alston’s findings were contained in the final report on his visit to the UK last November, which was published yesterday (Wednesday) and will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on 27 June, when the UK government will formally respond.

But DWP dismissed his conclusions, as it had done when he released his initial findings last year.

A DWP spokesperson insisted that UN data showed the UK was “one of the happiest places in the world to live” and the report was “a barely believable documentation of Britain, based on a tiny period of time spent here” that “paints a completely inaccurate picture of our approach to tackling poverty”.

The DWP spokesperson said: “We take tackling poverty extremely seriously which is why we spend £95 billion a year on welfare and maintain a state pension system that supports people into retirement.

All the evidence shows that full-time work is the best way to boost your income and quality of life, which is why our welfare reforms are focused on supporting people into employment and we introduced the national living wage, so people earn more in work.”

But Alston accused ministers of seeking to “distract from the troubling findings of this report by misrepresenting the process behind it”.

He said his report was based on months of preparation, more than 100 consultations, an analysis of over 300 submissions, and more than 100 citations of the government’s own data and that of “renowned UK institutions”.

He added in a statement: “I traveled the country meeting with people in poverty, prominent researchers, and frontline staff at foodbanks and advice centers, many of whom said they wished the government would do the same.

The government had an opportunity to review the report ahead of publication, yet made only eight minor changes.

The UK is happy to use human rights to criticize other countries, but it must also reckon with its own human rights problems.”

23 May 2019

 

 

User-led groups discuss how to turn back the tide of closures

User-led groups met this week to discuss how to turn back the tide of closures of organisations run and controlled by disabled people and service-users.

Research shows the number of user-led groups continuing to fall, due to austerity cuts and other trends affecting their funding.

The closures mean user-led organisations have a “diminishing” voice in opposing oppressive policies, according to a briefing released ahead of the meeting.

The closures are leading to a loss of a collective voice for disabled people, and the knowledge, peer support and advocacy that user-led organisations provide, the briefing said.

The meeting was organised by two national networks of user-led groups, the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) and Shaping Our Lives (SOL).

Professor Peter Beresford, SOL’s co-chair and one of the organisers of the meeting, said: “What was powerful was the strength of feeling at the meeting, which drew together a very diverse range of disabled people and service-users, with very clear messages.

The allocation of funding must be changed to stop discriminating against user-led organisations and to secure their future; they are crucial as the most direct voice for people increasingly marginalised under our politics.

Most shocking of all, participants made clear that nobody would fund a black organisation led by white people, a women’s organisation led by men or an LGBTQ organisation led by heterosexuals, yet the king-size portion of money in our field goes to organisations which are the absolute equivalent – dominated by non-disabled people and their agendas.

It must change and soon, before it’s too late.”

Both NSUN and SOL have produced research showing the number of members falling sharply in the last three years.

Initial findings from NSUN’s latest survey show that user-led organisations are often “overstretched” and forced to rely on the goodwill of volunteers and unpaid staff. 

The user-led organisations that took part said securing funding was “increasingly difficult”, with small user-led organisations increasingly losing out on contracts to large, non-user-led charities.

NSUN was also told that austerity, funding cuts and “the nonsense of the benefits system” were having a devastating impact on the lives of individual disabled people. 

The briefing paper for this week’s meeting said that the “diminishing voice” of user-led organisations meant there was less opposition locally and nationally to “oppressive policies”.

It said that many user-led organisations were suffering from “severe” cuts to local government funding, which had affected grants from local authorities.

This problem had been “intensified” by the trend of awarding large contracts to national private sector organisations to manage smaller contracts, with user-led organisations often then being asked to deliver the same service for a “much reduced budget”.

Those user-led organisations that do still receive funding from local authorities often feel pressured not to speak out about damaging cuts to services because of their fear of losing contracts.

Grants that are available from trusts and foundations often focus on project funding, leaving user-led organisations struggling to finance their core running costs.

But the briefing paper also warned that the individuals involved in setting up and growing user-led organisations were themselves experiencing “some of the worst deprivation, poverty and life chances in our communities”.

It added: “Their resilience and ability to struggle both personally and on behalf of others is now greatly diminished.”

23 May 2019

 

 

TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference: Anger over DWP’s universal credit ad campaign

Disabled union activists have condemned the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and media managers for pressuring jobcentre workers and reporters to take part in an “unethical and misleading” campaign aimed at air-brushing the impact of universal credit.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ)* spoke out this week after it emerged that DWP was paying hundreds of thousands of pounds for an advertising campaign in the Metro free newspaper series as part of a nationwide campaign to “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC”.

A leaked memo – seen by Disability News Service – says the series of Metro advertising features will be part of a wider campaign “to tackle misconceptions and improve the reputation of UC” by persuading newspapers and other media to run more positive news stories and features about universal credit (see separate story).

The Metro campaign launched yesterday (Wednesday) after it was brought forward following the publication of extracts from the leaked memo.

But it was launched on the same day that the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights published a report that was deeply critical of UC (see separate story), which he said had caused severe hardship and had “built a digital barrier that obstructs access to benefits”.

The DWP memo admitted that the department would deliberately not be using its branding on the features in order to disguise their origin and make them look like genuine news articles, which could breach advertising guidelines.

The first advertorials do include a line stating that they are an “advertisement feature from the Department for Work and Pensions”, but apparently include no DWP logos.

An emergency motion proposed by the NUJ*, and passed by the annual TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference this week, called for the TUC to condemn DWP for using taxpayers’ money to “defend this unworkable policy”.

It also backed journalists on regional and national newspapers who resist pressure from editors and managers to produce “unethical” stories about universal credit, in line with NUJ’s code of conduct.

NUJ delegate Natasha Hirst told the conference in Bournemouth that journalists feared losing their jobs if they resisted that pressure.

She also called for support for DWP press officers who wanted to obey the NUJ code of conduct by resisting pressure to “disseminate false or misleading information” about universal credit.

A proposed BBC documentary about universal credit – which is receiving enthusiastic co-operation from DWP – also “compromises” NUJ members who work in the BBC and members of the PCS union who work in jobcentres and do not want to be involved with the filming, she said.

Hirst said the DWP public relations campaign contravenes government guidelines on communications, which state that they should be “objective and explanatory, not biased or polemical”.

But the NUJ stopped short of backing calls by Disabled People Against Cuts to target the Metro by dumping copies of the free newspaper once it started printing the DWP adverts, as this could put the livelihoods of fellow journalists at risk, including disabled journalists.

Hirst said afterwards that NUJ opposed all boycotts of publications, and its target instead was the DWP and “those in the decision-making roles”.

She told delegates that universal credit was “responsible for worsening the mental and physical health of disabled people, pushed people into poverty and ultimately has cost some people their lives”.

And she said that what DWP described as “negativity and scaremongering” about universal credit was “actually people’s real stories, this is their truth about what has been happening to them.

It is a gross injustice and an insult to those disabled people who shared those stories and the journalists who have ethically reported on them for the DWP to dismiss and misrepresent the appalling impact that the damage that universal credit is having on people.”

Unite’s Andy Thompson, backing the motion, said: “We have to support this campaign, we have to support our sister union the NUJ in stopping the lies that this government are going to spend taxpayers’ money in promoting.

Why should they be able to use our hard-earned money, tax-payers’ money, to lie and deceive the people of this country?”

He said he understood why NUJ could not back a boycott of Metro but suggested that people could take “bundles of the Metro off the free distribution points and put them in skips”.

To calls of “hear, hear” from fellow delegates, he said: “We could get Metro off the shelves like we did the Sun off the shelves in Liverpool.

Let’s make sure the government are held to account for what they are actually doing.”

Austin Harney, from the PCS union, seconded the motion, and said: “PCS has had serious concerns from the outset on the development, implementation and effect of the government’s universal credit programme.

Our members on the frontline are now suffering as a result of the government’s chaotic welfare reforms, staff cuts and office closure programme.

Our members see first-hand the devastating effect government policies have on the most vulnerable in society.”

GMB’s Paul Kempton said he was concerned about DWP’s plan to remove its branding from its adverts.

He said: “DWP is supposed to be accountable, it is supposed to be transparent. Our concern is about the deceitful nature of how they are going about this.”

And Equity’s Rona Topaz told delegates: “It is pure biased propaganda by this government and I strongly urge you to support this motion.”

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has already received complaints about the adverts.

An ASA spokesperson said: “We’re carefully assessing the complaints and the ad campaign to establish if there are grounds for further action.

At this stage, no decision has been made as to whether we will launch an investigation.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “It is important people know about the benefits available to them, and we regularly advertise universal credit.

All our advertising abides by the strict guidelines set by the Advertising Standards Authority.”

She said DWP was “happy” that the adverts did not breach the government’s own communications rules.

*DNS editor John Pring is an NUJ member

23 May 2019

 

 

Newspaper ignores concerns over DWP’s universal credit ads

A national newspaper has ignored concerns about a series of “misleading” Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) adverts that are set to air-brush its “toxic” universal credit (UC) benefit system.

The Metro newspaper – run by the company that owns the Daily Mail – sparked outrage last week over its decision to take hundreds of thousands of pounds from DWP in exchange for a major nine-week series of advertising features.

It led to activists from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) promising to target the newspaper with a direct action campaign aimed at preventing copies of the Metro from being read when the advertising campaign began.

Following the concerns raised about the campaign, Metro and DWP brought forward the publication date and launched it yesterday (Wednesday).

It was launched on the same day that the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights published a report that was deeply critical of UC (see separate story), which he said had caused severe hardship and had “built a digital barrier that obstructs access to benefits”.

The Metro adverts are part of a nationwide DWP campaign to “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC”.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that UC – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced, and repeated warnings about its impact on disabled people.

But a leaked memo – seen by Disability News Service – says a series of Metro advertising features will be part of a wider campaign “to tackle misconceptions and improve the reputation of UC” by persuading newspapers and other media to run more positive stories about it.

It also admitted that DWP will deliberately not be using its logos on the advertising features, intentionally disguising their origin, which appears to be a breach of advertising guidelines.

The first advertorials do include a line stating that they are an “advertisement feature from the Department for Work and Pensions”, but apparently include no DWP or government logos.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has already received complaints about the adverts.

An ASA spokesperson said: “We’re carefully assessing the complaints and the ad campaign to establish if there are grounds for further action.

At this stage, no decision has been made as to whether we will launch an investigation.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “It is important people know about the benefits available to them, and we regularly advertise universal credit.

All our advertising abides by the strict guidelines set by the Advertising Standards Authority.”

A separate document, from the PCS union, has expressed concerns about a new three-part BBC documentary, which DWP said in its staff memo would provide “a fantastic opportunity” as part of its new campaign.

The PCS document warns of potential penalties that might be imposed on staff who are critical of DWP when interviewed by the BBC.

After being asked about disabled people’s concerns about the adverts, a Metro spokesperson said: “Metro takes advertising standards seriously. We are looking into the matters you’ve raised.

Metro is a non-partisan newspaper which carries advertisements for a range of clients, including government departments and unions.”

But just two days later, her newspaper ran the first of the DWP advertorial features.

She had not responded to further questions by noon today (Thursday).

Meanwhile, a second newspaper group has also been forced to defend its role in the DWP campaign.

Reach, which publishes national newspapers like the Daily Mirror and a string of local papers, has been criticised for running at least three positive articles about universal credit, which all focus on local DWP staff praising the impact it has had locally and either dismissing or ignoring its well-publicised flaws.

One of the articles was headlined, “I Think Universal Credit is Great – Here’s Why”, and another “18 months ago I was unemployed and skint – going to the Job Centre changed my life”, both published by the Leicester Mercury.

A third article, published by the Plymouth Herald, was headlined “The truth about Universal Credit: DWP staff at the Plymouth Jobcentre reveal all”.

Two of the articles have been re-published by other newspapers in the same group, with the “I think Universal Credit is Great” article published by at least 15 other papers.

DNS tried this week to put questions about the articles and the DWP memo to Reach, but it only commented in depth on one of the Leicester stories, which was widely shared with other newspapers in the group.

The Mercury’s editor also published a lengthy rebuttal of criticism of his newspaper by the Guardian, which first reported on the leaked memo.

David Higgerson, who was described as both Reach’s chief audience officer and its digital editorial director, said of the “I think Universal Credit is Great” article: “This article reported on a different view on an issue various Reach titles have been reporting on since 2013, and also contained context about the severe challenges universal credit has caused many people.

We have found no evidence that the sources quoted in this piece were forced to provide positive comments about their experiences working for the DWP.”

He added: “We regularly choose to syndicate articles when we believe the story will be of interest to other readers, as was the case here and with many other stories.

Furthermore, in the last 12 months we have published more than 1,100 articles on Universal Credit across the Reach group, including national and local titles, the majority of which have been critical.

The government regularly advertises with us and other news brands, however this is not something that would be made to bear on a journalist’s reporting.

There was no undue pressure, financial or otherwise, to publish this story or the others raised here.”

Higgerson declined to respond to questions about the DWP memo, and suggestions that his company had become caught up in DWP’s “myth-busting” campaign.

23 May 2019

 

 

TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference: Unions back plans for national support service

Disabled trade unionists have backed plans drawn up by disabled people’s organisations that would solve the social care crisis by introducing a national independent living support service (NILSS).

The backing from the TUC’s annual Disabled Workers’ Conference provides fresh impetus for the plans, which have been drawn up by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) of disabled people’s organisations.

ROFA set out its plans at a parliamentary meeting last month, while they were also presented to campaigners attending a parliamentary event last week that was organised by the Reclaim Social Care campaign.

A series of speakers at this week’s conference in Bournemouth told fellow delegates that there was no doubt that the current social care system was in crisis.

The motion, proposed by the Unite union, blamed the austerity cuts of successive Conservative-led governments, which had produced a “failing system unable to meet current need”.

Unite’s Mark Dunk said an NILSS would include a legal right to independent living, with support free for those in need, funded by general taxation and managed by central government.

The service would be led by disabled people and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people.

Although there was some opposition from delegates from two unions to the plans, the motion was overwhelmingly passed.

GMB’s John Grant described how his disabled mother-in-law had fallen over in her home but had been unable to call for help because she could not afford the £8-a-week cost of a personal alarm.

She was forced to stay jammed between the freezer and a wall in her kitchen for more than 17 hours until her daughter found her the next morning.

Grant said the social care crisis, which meant disabled people could not afford the support they needed, was “a disgrace” and “absolutely shocking”.

Dunk said there was no doubt that social care was in crisis, with a postcode lottery of support.

He said: “It’s a lottery where no-one wins, it’s just a case of how badly you lose.

Rising levels of charging are pushing people out of getting the care that they need.

The system needs a radical overhaul before the situation for disabled people is allowed to sink to even more barbaric lows than it has already.

Doing nothing is not an option. We need a national independent living support service.”

The National Education Union’s Mandy Hudson said that disabled people had a right to independent living.

She said: “It’s our right and we need to reassert that right and continue to fight for it.”

She said local authorities had lost 65 per cent of their funding because of the government’s austerity measures.

She said: “That’s why it needs to be a core provision from the state. In order to enjoy the fullness of our lives, our personal and professional lives, we need to enjoy that right to independent living.”

Wendy Willis, from USDAW, criticised the government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund in 2015, which she said was “a cost-cutting measure with no consideration for the needs of disabled people” and had left disabled people “at the mercy of the postcode lottery of care”.

She said: “This motion is about defending our rights to live independent lives and control our own futures.”

Another delegate to support the Unite motion, Brian Aylward, from the Musicians’ Union, who lives in Northern Ireland, employs a personal assistant using direct payments.

He said: “Six hours a week means the difference between having a life and having an existence. If I didn’t have that support, I would only have an existence.”

He said the ILF closure was “an absolute scandal” and showed “the fundamental attack this disgraceful government has made on our community right from the word go”.

But two unions expressed concerns about the plans.

Cath McGuinness, from UNISON, whose members work in both the NHS and social care, said she had reservations about the motion.

She said a national service “sounds good in principle” but she questioned how it would fit in with the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which all have responsibility for social care.

She also questioned how such plans would fit in with her union’s support for Labour policy on seeking to integrate health and social care.

And she said UNISON would need reassurance that the “discredited” system of commissioning social care services – “where private sector companies all too often deliver a bargain basement service and exploit our workers” – would not be replicated under the new system, which would instead be “delivered and not just managed or commissioned by the public sector”.

She also said UNISON would need to know how any changes would affect members who work in the private sector.

She said: “We would battle for them to be brought back in-house by local councils.”

She told the conference: “So we support the motion but look forward to further detailed discussion on how it might be implemented in practice across the four nations of the UK.”

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) opposed the motion.

CWU’s Jonathan Bellshaw also pointed to the devolution issue, and said he believed any new system should be funded by taxes on companies like Amazon and Google, rather than general taxation.

But he also said any campaign for a new system should not wait for a Labour government, telling delegates: “Let’s take the fight to the Tories… and demand to have this now.”

The day after the motion was carried, the conference held a panel discussion on independent living.

Sean McGovern, who chaired the discussion, and chairs the TUC’s disabled workers’ committee, said social care was facing a “perfect storm”, with care packages “cut to ribbons” and disabled people receiving the “barest minimum of care” and being “imprisoned in their own homes”.

Mark Harrison, from ROFA, said the system was “broken beyond repair” and the NILSS proposals provided a “bold vision for a different way of doing things” that was “based on the lived experience of disabled people”.

He said the devolved nations would be able to decide which parts of the proposals they wanted to introduce, and that the burden of funding the new system would fall mostly on those who could afford to pay, through the UK’s progressive income tax system, as with the NHS.

Ellen Clifford, from Disabled People Against Cuts, said the NILSS plans were still being developed, but were based on “a consensus that has been building in the disabled persons’ movement for the last seven years” and “built on what was so successful about the ILF”.

23 May 2019

 

 

TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference: ‘Rail industry must be forced to act on access’

The rail industry is breaching its duties under the Equality Act by failing to ensure that vital buttons and other fixtures and fittings on different trains are always positioned in the same location, say disabled trade unionists.

Union members called on the Department for Transport (DfT) to ensure that rail companies standardise the positioning of key features on their trains, such as buttons and levers on external and internal doors and door-locking levers on toilet doors.

Their failing design policies are acting as a “major barrier” to promoting independent travel for disabled passengers, they said.

Delegates at the TUC’s annual Disabled Workers’ Conference in Bournemouth said DfT needed to ensure that its procurement policies led to a standard approach to design across the whole rail network.

They also expressed their “disgust” that Great Western Railway (GWR) had been allowed to introduce inaccessible new class 800 intercity express carriages built by Hitachi.

Delegates also backed an amendment from the RMT union that supported the need for a guard on every train, and adequately staffed stations.

John Haynes, from the TSSA transport union, said standardisation would “give people confidence” to know where to find buttons, levers and how to open doors.

He said: “Accessibility is not just about getting on and off, it’s about having the confidence to travel, to take away the barriers, to give people the right to independence.”

He said the new GWR trains only had two accessible toilets, one of them in first class, with the other in a standard class carriage that had no spaces for wheelchair-users.

He said: “That is disgraceful in this day and age. Questions need to be asked: how did that design come about?

This motion condemns those people who allowed that train to come into service.”

He said this was “a step back 40 years” and was “a disgrace” because wheelchair-users would be forced to travel in the vestibule at the end of the carriage if they wanted access to the accessible toilet.

Andy Worth, from Unite, also called for standardised access on all trains, both new and old.

He said: “For too many years, the trains we use have had different provision and facilities.

This makes it very difficult and confusing for disabled passengers to have a comfortable journey.

We have been campaigning for standardised access for a long time.

Disabled passengers can get on a train with buttons on the right-hand side and get on another one with buttons on the left-hand side.

We need to continue to make this demand for standardised access across all trains and across all stations.

We need to campaign to make sure DfT makes it a mandatory requirement that all rail stock and stations have standardised access provisions and facilities, including all fixtures and fittings.”

Emily Brothers, from the GMB union, said the rail industry had successfully lobbied in the 1990s for a lengthy implementation period for rail access regulations, as part of the introduction of the Disability Discrimination Act.

She said: “Twenty-odd years later they are still procrastinating and not bringing in carriages, rolling stock that are standardised or accessible, as we have seen with Great Western and Hitachi. That is not acceptable.

It is time for disabled people to be able to freely travel when they need to, to have the support of guards on all trains, to have a way in which they can find access on the train but also to get off the train on any station and get onto another or access the local environment.”

23 May 2019

 

 

New mental capacity legislation ‘is still flawed and fails on protection’

The government’s new mental capacity act – which has now become law – is still flawed and is a prime example of how not to design disability-related policy, according to a leading disabled people’s organisation.

The Mental Capacity (Amendment) Act became law last Thursday (16 May) when it received royal assent.

It will introduce a new system, Liberty Protection Safeguards, which will replace the crisis-ridden Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards and will apply to service-users who are said to need to have restrictions placed on their liberty as part of their care but are considered to be unable to consent to those arrangements.

At one stage, Inclusion London and People First (Self Advocacy) described the bill as “potentially dangerous” as it was passing through parliament, with concerns that it would weaken disabled people’s rights.

Although some concessions were made after repeated flaws in the bill were highlighted, there are still concerns that the act fails to offer enough protection to disabled people.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the safeguards would have “vulnerable people at their heart, and will streamline existing care planning processes to reform a backlogged and bureaucratic system”.

It will now consult on a “comprehensive” code of practice, and said it was working with “a wide range of organisations to ensure these reforms truly promote and protect vulnerable people’s liberty”.

DHSC was repeatedly criticised throughout the bill’s process through parliament for its failure to consult with disabled people and their organisations over its contents.

It previously admitted in a freedom of information response to Inclusion London that it failed to consult any organisations led by disabled people while drawing up the bill.

Instead, it resorted to discussions with big charities like Mencap and Sense, which are run and controlled by non-disabled people, a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Svetlana Kotova, coordinator of Inclusion London’s Disability Justice Project, said: “This act is an example of how the government should not design its policy.

It was developed with very little consultation with disabled people and DDPOs [Deaf and disabled people’s organisations], despite the clear requirement in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The act was rushed through parliament, allowing very little engagement and scrutiny by those who will be affected by it. 

Although the government was under pressure and at the end had to concede on many important issues, we are still concerned that the system introduced by the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Act does not offer sufficient protection of disabled people’s right to liberty. 

There is no duty to promote liberty and make sure support is put in place in the community [to prevent people being stuck in, or forced into, institutions].  

There is still limited access to independent reviews and not enough support to challenge deprivation of liberty decisions.”   

She added: “The government has left too many important issues to be clarified in the code of practice and we are very disappointed that so far the DHSC has not set up an accessible mechanism to engage people with learning difficulties and DDPOs [on the code of practice].” 

23 May 2019

 

 

TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference: Urgent action call on deaths of autistic people

Disabled trade unionists have called for urgent action to address the tragic inadequacies that have led to the deaths of scores of autistic and other disabled people in care settings.

This week’s annual TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference in Bournemouth backed an emergency motion that criticised the government for failing to act on flaws identified by investigations into the deaths.

It came as a new BBC Panorama documentary revealed alleged abuse at a private sector care facility for autistic people and people with learning difficulties, this time at Whorlton Hall, in County Durham.

The allegations have led to the launch of a police investigation and the suspension of 16 members of staff, as well as a CQC apology for its failure to spot the abuse.

This week’s motion, proposed by autistic rights campaigner Janine Booth, a member of the TUC disabled workers’ committee, focused on the death of Colette McCulloch, who was struck and killed by a lorry after wandering onto the A1 near Bedford in July 2016.

An inquest in March this year found there had been inadequacies in her care that contributed to her death, and that she had been failed by a lack of a mental health assessment and an inadequate regime of care, although no individual or organisation had been directly at fault.

She had been living in a residential care home near Bedford, after being placed there by Sussex Partnership NHS Trust, while requests for a Mental Health Act assessment had been rejected by the local joint mental health service.

The motion backed by the conference called on the TUC to demand government action to create “an adequately-funded, publicly-run, accountable and effective care service for those who need it”.

Booth also told this week’s conference about some of the many other autistic people who have died prematurely in care settings.

They included Connor Sparrowhawk, who was left unsupervised in a bath and had a seizure and drowned.

Elric Eiffert also drowned in a bath in a private mental health facility after a seizure, while his family were not told of his death for 17 days.

Stephanie Bincliffe, died in an assessment and treatment unit after staff allowed her weight to increase to 25 stone. She had spent years alone in a padded room and died from complications associated with her weight gain.

And Michael Bennett died while in the care of a disability charity. An inquest found there had been shortcomings in his care, although the care home itself was not at fault for his death.

Booth, an RMT delegate, said more than 40 autistic people and people with learning difficulties had died in secure hospitals in three years, nine of them under the age of 35.

She said: “They are all tragic cases, but they are not tragic in the sense of being unavoidable or accidental.

They are entirely preventable and they are the product of the under-funding in the care system, the involvement of private companies which will always prioritise profit, and a system which still sees disabled people as a burden rather than as human beings with rights.”

She called for “justice for those people we have lost and an end to the under-funding, the privatisation and the reactionary attitudes that left unchallenged will cause this to happen again”.

Austin Harney, the first autistic member of the national executive of the PCS union, told delegates that the Colette McCulloch case showed that “we do live in an institutionalised, prejudiced society towards autistic and neurodivergent people”, which he said was “outrageous”.

23 May 2019

 

 

Government agrees to review every care segregation case, after CQC report

Scores of disabled people who have been held in long-term segregation in NHS and private sector health settings will have their cases independently reviewed, the government has agreed, after a report by the health and care watchdog.

The Care Quality Commission’s interim report found more than 70 disabled children and adults – all of them autistic or with learning difficulties or mental health conditions – in long-term segregation in facilities across England.

It came as disabled trade union activists called at their annual meeting for urgent action to address the “tragic inadequacies” that have led to the deaths of scores of autistic and other disabled people in care settings (see separate story).

And a new BBC Panorama documentary has revealed alleged abuse at a private sector care facility for autistic people and people with learning difficulties, this time at Whorlton Hall, in County Durham.

The allegations have led to the launch of a police investigation and the suspension of 16 members of staff, as well as a Care Quality Commission (CQC) apology for its failure to spot the abuse.

The CQC report said one autistic man had been in segregation for nearly 10 years, while one autistic child had been segregated for more than two years, while 16 people had been in segregation for more than a year.

The CQC report concluded: “People will continue to be hospitalised and placed in segregation, and become ‘stuck’, unless a different and better system of care is put in place.”

It added: “If a period of hospital care is in the person’s interests, this must be provided close to home and last only as long as it remains in the person’s interests.

The report includes the experiences of an autistic boy called Adam, who was admitted to a hospital at the age of 10 and was still there 15 months later, living in a segregated “seclusion room” with padded walls.

Staff sit in the corridor behind a locked door, watching him, and shout at him through a window when they want to communicate with him.

His education consists of a book held up to a window for him to read.

Staff have still not completed a sensory assessment that might help them understand how to support Adam with his sensory issues, and most of them have only received basic online training in autism, says the report.

Of the 39 people in segregation who CQC has visited so far, 31 of them are autistic.

One in three of the 39 had faced longer in segregation than originally planned because of “delayed discharges” caused by a lack of a suitable package of care in the community.

Some of the hospitals provided their staff with little or no training in autism, with any training often no more than a short module at induction or basic e-learning.

About half of the people in segregation were in wards managed by the independent sector and half were in the NHS.

The report says: “We have concluded that many of the people we have visited have been let down by health, care and education services, often over the course of many years.”

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock this week ordered an independent review of the care of every autistic person and person with learning difficulties in long-term segregation or seclusion.

He has also agreed to set up a new group of experts to find a better system of care.

But there are already concerns about his plans after a Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokesperson said the working group would be made up of “experts, clinicians, parents and carers”, apparently ignoring autistic and other disabled people.

CQC had called for the group to include “people with lived experience” of the care system.

Asked why the group did not appear to include any disabled people, a DHSC spokesperson declined to comment further as he said the panel had not yet been appointed.

CQC has also concluded that it needs to improve its own method of monitoring hospitals that use segregation.

The second phase of the CQC inquiry will now look at a wider group of settings, including low secure and rehabilitation mental health wards and adult social care services, and will also look at the use of restraint.

Hancock said: “I have been deeply moved and appalled by the distressing stories of some autistic people and people with learning disabilities spending years detained in mental health units.

These vulnerable people are too often left alone, away from their families, friends and communities.  

At its best, the health and care system provides excellent support to people, backed by a dedicated workforce.

But a small proportion of some of the most vulnerable in society are being failed by a broken system that doesn’t work for them.

I commissioned the Care Quality Commission to review the use of segregation in health and care settings to tackle this issue head on.

Today I have accepted their recommendations in full. I hope this is a turning point so everyone receives the care they need.

I will not let these people down – they deserve better.”

DNS reported last November how Hancock announced the CQC review more than 70 years after similar concerns were first raised by civil rights campaigners, and following a series of media investigations into conditions in privately-run assessment and treatment units.

In a second report released this week, the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said too many children were being admitted to secure hospitals unnecessarily.

She said some were spending years in institutions, rather than living in the community.

NHS Digital figures show that autistic children and those with learning difficulties had spent an average of eight months in inpatient care, while about one in seven had spent at least a year in their current hospital spell with their current provider.

The figures show 95 children were staying in a ward known to be more than 31 miles from home.

Longfield said there were about 250 such children living in mental health wards in England. 

At least 75 of them had been restrained in one month – December 2018 – with a total of 820 restraints in just that month between them.

Longfield said the quality of care was “highly variable”, with one family saying their son had not been washed for six months, while about one in four children did not appear to have had a formal review of their care plan within the last 26 weeks.

23 May 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:33
May 162019
 

Direct action pledge after DWP pays tabloid to air-brush universal credit

Disabled activists are to target a tabloid newspaper with direct action after it signed an advertising deal with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to promote its “toxic” universal credit benefit system.

A leaked DWP document – seen by Disability News Service (DNS) – shows the department has signed an agreement with the Metro free newspaper series to publish a nine-week series of advertising features on universal credit (UC).

The adverts will, says the DWP memo, “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC” and “explain what UC is and how it works in reality”, as part of a series of measures being taken by the department across the country to promote UC.

It is believed the Metro – part of the same company as the Daily Mail – will begin running the advertising campaign on Friday 31 May.

The memo is thought to have been published on the DWP intranet on 2 May, and later passed to the Sheffield branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

Jennifer Jones, a founding member of Sheffield DPAC, said: “Obviously we were shocked upon reading it.

It is irrefutable proof that there is a coordinated campaign to spread fake newspaper articles and pro-UC propaganda, despite the level of misery that people are suffering.

Not only that, but the British public are being charged for the privilege.

It is insulting but it is also unbelievably cruel to anybody who is suffering as a result of universal credit.”

She said the memo had arrived at a time when she and fellow activists had begun to notice posts praising UC suddenly appearing on Facebook pages set up to support claimants – among all the usual “misery and desperation” – while a string of flattering articles about UC began to appear in local newspapers.

DPAC’s national steering group said it was appalled at the idea of what will be a “misleading advertising campaign”.

It said UC had “robbed millions from women pensioners, disabled people, women and children all of whom have been pushed deeper and deeper into poverty, and despair”, with many “forced to resort to prostitution and crime in order to survive”. 

DPAC has now called on its supporters to visit locations where the free paper is given away – such as train and tube stations – and “remove or otherwise prevent as many as possible” from being read from 31 May.

DPAC is also preparing a dossier of evidence about the DWP-Metro deal to pass to the advertising watchdog, and pledges to “make sure the Metro never want another DWP advert again”.

Jones said: “We refuse to be force-fed government propaganda, so we will put a stop to it ourselves.

If they want us to be militant, we will be militant. We are not taking it anymore.”

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “toxic” and “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced, and repeated warnings about its impact on disabled people.

Last month, DNS reported how DWP had destroyed a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of claimants of UC and other benefits in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.

Last November, DNS revealed how DWP had been forced to soften the “threatening” tone of the agreement that claimants of universal credit are forced to sign to receive their benefits, following a secret review into the death of a claimant.

The same month, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, warned that universal credit could “wreak havoc” and had created a “digital barrier” that prevented many disabled people and other disadvantaged groups from accessing the support they were entitled to.

Earlier that month, Alston was told how a man with learning difficulties died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto the “chaotic” universal credit system that left him hundreds of pounds in debt.

And last June, a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.

This month’s leaked DWP memo was written by three senior civil servants, including Neil Couling, director general of the universal credit programme.

It complains about media “negativity and scaremongering” about UC – even though much of the most significant criticism has come from respected organisations such as the UN and the NAO – and brags about the “great work we do to transform the lives of millions of people for the better”.

The Metro coverage will begin with a “wraparound” advertising feature – which will likely include a fake front page praising UC – of four pages, written by DWP, that compare the “myths” with “the truth” about UC.

The Guardian, which broke the story of the campaign earlier this week, also revealed that a Metro national “cover wrap” costs £250,000 (PDF), although the full advertising campaign will cost many tens of thousands of pounds more.

The memo even admits that DWP will deliberately not be using its branding on the features, intentionally disguising their origin, which appears to be a breach of advertising guidelines.

The memo says the Metro advertising features will be part of a wider campaign “to tackle misconceptions and improve the reputation of UC”, which has already included work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd writing to every MP, and to journalists, asking them to “come and see for themselves the great work we do”.

The memo also mentions a new three-part BBC documentary, in which it says the broadcaster will “intelligently explore” UC by “spending time with our people who are instrumental in implementing it”.

The memo says the documentary, which will air this autumn, will be “a fantastic opportunity for us”.

But a separate document from the PCS union expresses concerns about the documentary and warns of potential penalties that might be imposed on staff who are critical of DWP when interviewed by the BBC.

A BBC press release on the documentary said it would “take a fresh look” at UC and “unearth the strengths and limitations of the new system to understand the impact and reality of Universal Credit today”.

It will include interviews with work coaches, Rudd, senior civil servants, claimants, local authorities, advice agencies and charities.

Asked about the memo and the Metro advertising campaign, DWP said it did not comment on leaked documents, but a spokesperson said: “It’s important people know about the benefits available to them, and we regularly advertise universal credit.

All our advertising abides by the strict guidelines set by the Advertising Standards Authority.”

Metro had not responded to requests for a comment by noon today (Thursday).

16 May 2019

 

 

Commons civil servants block DNS over DWP benefit deaths cover-up

House of Commons civil servants have blocked attempts to confirm that an influential MP is opposing efforts to highlight a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) cover-up of deaths linked to its social security reforms.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been trying since last week to secure a response from Frank Field, who chairs the Commons work and pensions select committee, to the cover-up by DWP ministers and senior civil servants.

A spokesperson for the committee has said that “we cannot – and will not” comment, but she has since refused to confirm whether the questions about the cover-up had been passed to Field, or whether the refusal to comment had been made solely by civil servants.

DNS has attempted to contact senior figures within the House of Commons communications department but has encountered further obstruction.

By noon today (Thursday), it was still not clear whether Field himself was refusing to comment on the cover-up, or whether Commons civil servants were simply refusing to put questions from DNS to the independent MP.

DNS has previously run news stories critical of Field and his committee, including – in December 2017 – its refusal to ask the new minister for disabled people about figures that showed attempted suicides among people claiming out-of-work disability benefits doubled between 2007 and 2014.

Another news story, in September 2017, saw disabled activists express outrage after Field suggested that employers should be allowed to pay some disabled people less than the minimum wage.

Field was asked last Friday for a response to proof that DWP failed to send its own independent reviewer crucial documents about the work capability assessment.

But Field – or his civil servants – have so far shown no interest in examining the evidence and have refused to comment on the DWP cover-up, even though Labour’s Debbie Abrahams has written to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd demanding an explanation.

Although Field left DWP years before the cover-up took place, he himself was a work and pensions minister in the early years of the last Labour government, between 1997 and 1998.

DNS asked Field if he believed there should be an inquiry into links between the deaths of claimants and the actions of ministers or civil servants, and if he believed that any evidence of misconduct in public office by ministers or civil servants should be passed to police for a possible criminal investigation, both of which are key demands of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*.

MPs are slowly beginning to call for a criminal investigation, despite the resistance of influential figures like Field.

Last week, independent MP Stephen Lloyd spoke out in support of the idea of a criminal investigation into alleged misconduct, and he was joined this week by Labour’s former shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams.

Abrahams has written to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd seeking answers and expressing “grave concerns” about the reported cover-up, and also raised the issue in the House of Commons (see separate story).

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, has also raised concerns about DWP’s actions.

She said this week: “It is unacceptable that the DWP has failed to share this vital information with an independent investigator, exposing the tragic consequences of the flawed work capability assessment.  

Instead, the government has consistently defended the cruel and callous WCA, which has been linked with preventable harm and suicide.   

It is vital that any evidence of criminal misconduct in public office by civil servants or ministers is passed to police. 

Labour supports the demands for justice for Jodey Whiting and those like her.

It is time for an urgent independent inquiry into deaths associated with the work capability assessment so that disabled people and their families are given the answers that they deserve.” 

DNS revealed last week that, following intervention from the Information Commissioner’s Office, DWP had finally admitted that two letters written by coroners, and a series of secret “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants, were hidden from the team set up to review the work capability assessment (WCA), under Dr Paul Litchfield.

DWP has this week finally responded to DNS questions about the ICO evidence.

A spokesperson said: “DWP co-operated fully with the Litchfield reviews, and shared all relevant information which was requested by Dr Litchfield and his team.

DWP was not asked by Dr Litchfield or his review for information on the specific cases you refer to.

The issues investigated and evidence sought is at the discretion of the independent reviewer, and according to the terms of reference of their review.”

But she has been unable to explain how Litchfield’s team could have requested information – the secret peer reviews and coroners’ letters – if they did not know they existed.

The existence of the letters and links between peer reviews and the WCA were not revealed by DNS until after the final Litchfield report was published.

The DWP spokesperson also refused to say if DWP believed the cover-up showed there needed to be an independent inquiry, and that any evidence suggesting criminal misconduct in public office should be passed to the police.

*To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

16 May 2019

 

 

Senior MP calls on Rudd to act over DWP’s WCA deaths cover-up

A Labour MP has written to the work and pensions secretary to call for an inquiry into deaths linked to government social security reforms, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers or civil servants to be passed to police.

Debbie Abrahams made the demands – key elements of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petitionin a letter to Amber Rudd, in which she expressed “grave concerns” about the government’s failure to pass documents linking its reforms with the deaths of disabled people to its own independent reviewer.

Abrahams, a former shadow work and pensions secretary, had been told by Disability News Service (DNS) that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had finally admitted failing to send key letters and secret reviews to the team reviewing the work capability assessment (WCA).

In her letter, Abrahams demanded urgent answers to “these very serious questions”.

She told Rudd: “I am concerned that under your predecessors, two letters written by coroners, and a series of ‘peer reviews’ into the deaths of claimants, were not sent to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert ministers hired to review the Work Capability Assessment in 2013 and 2014.

I would be grateful if you would confirm that these reports are correct and outline what steps you have taken to ensure such an omission could not recur.”

Abrahams also raised the issue during work and pensions questions in the House of Commons on Monday.

But the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, failed to answer her questions, insisting instead that the government had “accepted and implemented” more than 100 recommendations made by the WCA reviews and would “continue to do all that we can to improve the process for claimants”.

Abrahams told DNS afterwards: “His response, or lack of, speaks for itself.”

In her letter to Rudd, she said there needed to be an independent inquiry into all deaths linked to the government’s social security reforms, with any evidence of criminal misconduct in public office by ministers or civil servants to be passed to police.

DNS revealed last week how ministers failed to send the review team two letters from coroners and a series of internal reviews, even though they knew the documents linked the WCA with the deaths of disabled people.

The admission came in DWP’s response to a complaint lodged by DNS with the Information Commissioner’s Office about the department’s failure to confirm if it passed the information to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert ministers hired to review the WCA in 2013 and 2014.

A senior ICO case officer told DNS: “Consultation with the ex-review team elicited statements that no such information was received from DWP nor were any physical files sent to stores.”

DWP has this week finally responded to DNS questions about the ICO evidence.

A spokesperson said: “DWP co-operated fully with the Litchfield reviews, and shared all relevant information which was requested by Dr Litchfield and his team.

DWP was not asked by Dr Litchfield or his review for information on the specific cases you refer to.

The issues investigated and evidence sought is at the discretion of the independent reviewer, and according to the terms of reference of their review.”

But she has been unable to explain how Litchfield’s team could have requested information – the secret peer reviews and coroners’ letters – if they did not know they existed.

The existence of the letters and the links between peer reviews and the WCA were not revealed by DNS until after the final Litchfield report was published.

She also refused to say if DWP believed the cover-up showed there needed to be an independent inquiry, and that any evidence suggesting criminal misconduct in public office should be passed to the police.

*To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

16 May 2019

 

 

Disabled peer calls for radical changes to ensure ‘wraparound’ support

A disabled crossbench peer has called on the government to introduce a “comprehensive” scheme that would provide the kind of “wraparound” support that would allow disabled people to live an independent life.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell called for a radical and comprehensive “access to living scheme” to replace the current system of support that divides disabled people into “unwieldy boxes of social care, continuing healthcare, housing or employment support”.

She told fellow peers that in the 13 years since a Labour government committed to a policy of promoting independent living and integrated support, progress had “ground nearly to a halt”, and in some areas was “regressing rapidly”.

She pointed to a combination of austerity measures, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the introduction of personal independence payment, and “a lack of progress in the realisation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.

Baroness Campbell told peers of proposals developed by the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG)*, which she chairs, which include incorporating article 19 of the UN convention – on independent living – into UK law.

Such a move would provide a legal right to independent living for the first time.

ILSG wants to see a national access to living fund, bringing together the various sources of support into one pot, with the government reinvesting in user-led regional organisations such as centres for independent living, and helping to fund new co-operatives, social enterprises, community businesses and other charities.

Baroness Campbell said: “This would enable a hundred flowers to blossom, making for a strong access to living culture, and enabling all disabled people – all, no matter what their medical condition – to maximise their life chances.

An access to living investment would foster the transformative social capital we have yet failed to realise under current outdated systems, which, in social care support alone, now offer only the top-down, survival safety-net services.”

Responding to the debate on behalf of the government, the Tory peer Baroness Barran said she would be “absolutely delighted” to meet the ILSG.

They were taking part in a Lords debate secured by the Tory peer Lord Borwick on the issues facing disabled people and the “potential for improved treatment and outcomes in the next 50 years”.

Another crossbench disabled peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, spoke of the continuing problems she faced with the inaccessible rail system, including “getting on and off trains”, the booking system and the frequent lack of accessible toilets.

She also highlighted the failure of the new Caledonian Sleeper – which has received more than £100 million in public funding from the UK and Scottish governments – to include any accessible showers, as reported last week by Disability News Service.

She told peers: “I am looking forward to a time when I book such a journey and push through the station in my pyjamas looking for an accessible shower that may or may not be in the station. I am not sure that anyone is ready for that.”

And she criticised the rail industry’s failure to consult with disabled people, describing it as a “travesty”, and called on the government to look again at rail regulations so that disabled people “can have the same miserable experience as everybody else”.

Baroness Barran said she would raise the points made by Baroness Grey-Thompson with the Department for Transport, “particularly regarding design regulations and co-production”.

The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said it was “shocking” that the government had still not published its adult social care green paper, and she said that “far more attention” needed to be paid to the provision of accessible, adaptable and wheelchair-accessible homes.

She also said she wanted to see more accessible restaurants, cafes, shops and hotels, and “far more disabled people not just in employment but in positions of power and influence as local councillors, school governors, mayors, CEOs, MPs, peers, judges and, yes, government ministers”.

She said: “In 50 years’ time, life may well be better for all disabled people, but only if those in positions of leadership always involve disabled people themselves in what they really need and what really works for them.”

Lord Borwick suggested that campaigners were “winning the argument” for all new homes to be built to the Lifetime Homes standard.

Baroness Thornton, for Labour, said there had almost been a “perfect storm” of failed public policy on disability, including £7 billion taken out of adult social care budgets because of reduced funding since 2010, four-fifths of local authorities saying there was not enough provision of social care services, and a social care system that was “in crisis”.

Baroness Barran accepted that key indicators still showed “multiple disadvantages for disabled people, from poverty to educational outcomes, employment, discrimination, isolation and a lack of opportunity”.

But she said the government was “committed to addressing this across a range of key policy areas including, to name but three, employment, healthcare and transport”.

*ILSG has been working on protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights to independent living in England since 2013. Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.

16 May 2019

 

 

Panel seeks DPOs for pioneering partnership with mayor

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) across Greater Manchester have been given the chance to take part in a pioneering new partnership with local government.

Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, is funding a new Disabled People’s Panel (DPP) that will work with him and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) he chairs.

The authority – whose other 10 members are the leaders of Greater Manchester’s 10 borough councils – has commissioned Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) to set up the panel.

The panel will aim to shape, challenge and influence policy affecting disabled people across Greater Manchester, by advising and consulting with GMCA.

The panel’s members will be local disability organisations drawn from across Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs, with most of them likely to be DPOs committed to the social model of disability, with strong engagement with their local community, and successful representation of diverse groups, including LGBT and black and minority ethnic communities.

Those taking part will receive an involvement fee from the mayor’s office, while two GMCDP staff are being paid to set up the panel, keep it running and help it liaise with local authorities across Greater Manchester.

Manchester has become the first city region in the UK to introduce a disabled people’s panel that will be involved in such a senior level of strategic policy-making.

It is a significant success for GMCDP, which said before Burnham’s election as Greater Manchester’s first elected mayor in 2017 that it hoped to persuade the successful mayoral candidate to make the region a trailblazer for disability rights in England and “develop ground-breaking initiatives to tackle disability”.

Rick Burgess, the newly-appointed outreach and panel development worker at GMCDP, said: “It’s an experiment and it’s an adventure because it’s never been done before, and it’s always worth trying a new way of interfacing with power to make things better for disabled people.

The long-term aim is to have an ongoing engagement between disabled people across Manchester and the organisations that make policy across Manchester.

Because of devolution, there are opportunities to do things differently from Westminster.

Central government in Westminster has been condemned by the UN for how they treat disabled people. In Greater Manchester we can certainly do better than that.

Some of what we can do is mitigation or harm reduction when there are bad policies nationally.

I would hope we can find ways to lessen their harmful impact on people.”

The mayor’s office has agreed that the organisations appointed to the panel will receive an involvement fee and training, in contrast to the unpaid chairs and members of the Regional Stakeholder Network being set up by the government’s Office for Disability Issues.

Burgess said: “Fair play to Andy Burnham and the combined authority. They have thought to themselves: we don’t know everything, maybe we need to listen to the people who are experts in their own lives on how we make policy and stuff.

It is democracy in action. We are looking to gather up the views of disabled people throughout Greater Manchester and affect policy-making at the highest level.”

Although some of the panel members may not be organisations led and controlled by disabled people, Burgess hopes and expects that most of them will be.

He said: “This is for disabled people to change the policies that affect them, so it is primarily about disabled people forming the panel.”

He stressed that the panel would decide its own priorities, but issues that are consistently coming up in discussion with disabled people in Greater Manchester are transport, housing, social care and benefits, and then accessibility and employment, he said.

As well as a panel of probably between 15 and 20 members, organisations will also be able to ask to be associate members, so they can contribute and be kept informed of its work.

Burgess said GMCDP was keen to spread the idea of the DPP to other parts of the country if it is successful, providing an “incredibly representative engagement between power and disabled people so eventually power becomes less ableist and more inclusive and removes those barriers we are always talking about”.

The deadline for applications to join the panel is 28 May.

16 May 2019

 

 

Disabled activist tells parliamentary meeting of need for ‘new approach’ to social care

A leading disabled activist has told a parliamentary meeting of the need for a “new approach” to supporting disabled people that focuses on the promotion of independent living.

Bob Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People and a director of Being the Boss, a user-led organisation which supports disabled people who employ PAs, told the meeting that the system of social support for disabled people “has not ever been fit for purpose”.

He said a new approach to supporting disabled people should draw upon both the last Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People strategy and demands by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) for a new national independent living support service that would eliminate the postcode lottery in support.

ROFA wants a legal right to independent living, and a national independent living service funded by general taxation and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people.

The meeting was organised by the Reclaim Social Care (RSC) campaign, which itself was born from Health Campaigns Together, a coalition that brings together organisations fighting to defend the NHS.

RSC aims to develop a parallel campaign to Health Campaigns Together, for a “properly funded and publicly accountable” social care system.

RSC wants a universal social care service, free at the point of use to all who need it, fully funded through progressive taxation, and locally provided, locally accountable and designed as far as possible by service-users.

But Williams-Findlay told the meeting that managing the RSC campaign would not be easy because there were groups and individuals who viewed the social care crisis from different perspectives or felt the need to champion specific groups.

It is believed that only two MPs attended the meeting – Labour’s Eleanor Smith and Rachael Maskell – and Williams-Findlay said afterwards that engaging MPs on the subject was “proving difficult”.

He told Disability News Service that ROFA’s plans were not about reshaping the “existing monster” but “a complete transformation” that would end the “neoliberal market-facing services and commodification of service-users”.

He said: “It’s hard to sense the support from mainstream campaigners for the kind of approach we are suggesting because of the diversity of opinion.

Supporting the Reclaim Social Care campaign is challenging as many of the campaigners are from traditional health backgrounds or are carers; therefore, they are not coming from the perspective we advocate.”

He said the RSC campaign needed to “acknowledge that the majority of the public have no idea what ‘social care’ is and accept stereotyped views”.

He said the campaign should “try and educate everyone about the different reasons people have for requiring social support” and “how this shapes the type of service delivery that needs to be offered and the consequences involved”.

And he warned that simply “reclaiming or reinventing” social care was not good enough because “the current crisis means we’ve gone beyond seeking urgent reform, and therefore a full transformation of the system is required”.

16 May 2019

 

 

Government finally acts on Changing Places call

New large public buildings such as shopping centres, sports stadiums and cinema complexes will soon have to include a Changing Places accessible toilet, according to government proposals.

The government has announced a consultation on the plans – which will also affect existing large public buildings that undergo significant alterations – more than two years after the idea was recommended by the Commons women and equalities committee.

That was followed last year by a petition calling for Changing Places to be provided in all large public buildings as they are built, redeveloped or refurbished, which secured more than 57,000 signatures.

Now the government has finally agreed to act by making changes to building regulations.

Its proposals would affect public buildings such as new theatres with at least 500 seats, museums and art galleries that expect to receive more than 300,000 visitors a year, cinema complexes with at least five screens, and hospitals and primary care centres.

It should mean more than 150 new Changing Places toilets – facilities with extra space and equipment such as hoists and changing benches for disabled people who cannot use standard accessible toilets – every year.

But it will not affect existing buildings unless they seek planning permission for significant alterations.

There are currently more than 1,300 Changing Place toilets across the UK.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government had announced it was considering a change to building regulations on 24 December.

Now it has confirmed that it wants to go ahead with the plans and is seeking views on its proposals through a 10-week consultation, which closes on 21 July.

Last month, the Department for Transport, in partnership with the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK (MDUK), launched a £2 million fund for Changing Places toilets to be installed in existing motorway service stations.

The Department of Health and Social Care will also soon launch its own £2 million fund for NHS Trusts to install new Changing Places in more than 100 hospitals across England.

Fiona Anderson, from Bolton, a member of MDUK’s Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners, and herself a user of Changing Places toilets, said: “A lack of Changing Places toilets has led to me deciding to have surgery, which will give me more freedom to go to the toilet.

If these facilities were in every large public building, I would no longer have to endure the pain of postponing going to the toilet all day and the ever-present dark cloud of sepsis occurring would be lifted.

Ultimately, I also wouldn’t need to have a catheter fitted, which would mean the world to me. I’m not incontinent – I simply can’t transfer to a toilet without a hoist.

Changing Places toilets are a much-needed lifeline. But with so few of them available, people like me are forced to sacrifice our dignity and independence.”

Rishi Sunak, the local government minister, said: “Everyone should have the freedom to enjoy days out in dignity and comfort.

For severely disabled people, this is made very difficult because there are not enough Changing Places toilets.

We’ve made some progress, but I’m determined to increase the number of these life-enhancing facilities, so people are given the dignity they deserve.

I’m pleased so many people will be helped by this major change.”

16 May 2019

 

 

New access fund helps nearly 20 disabled politicians win council seats

A new fund to support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office helped 19 disabled people win seats on local councils at this month’s elections.

The EnAble Fund for Elected Office only went live in January, handing out 42 grants to help disabled candidates in England with the disability-related expenses of standing for elected office.

The fund, administered by Disability Rights UK (DR UK) on behalf of the Local Government Association (LGA), is only a temporary replacement for the Access to Elected Office Fund, which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years.

The Government Equalities Office has provided funding of £250,000 for the temporary fund, covering expenses such as British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares, but it is not clear what will happen after it closes in March 2020.

Disabled politicians have previously warned that the temporary fund was only a “first step” and was a “drop in the ocean” of what was required to provide a long-term solution to allow disabled politicians to compete on a level playing-field with non-disabled candidates.

The Scottish government has set up its own fund for disabled candidates for local and Scottish parliament elections, delivered by Inclusion Scotland.

Anna Denham, DR UK’s project manager for the EnAble fund, said: “Feedback from participants, including from several who were not elected, is that the fund enabled them to participate equally, which both they – and DR UK – view as a success.

We would of course like to see funding continue beyond March 2020 and be available to candidates standing in any (local) government election in England.

We therefore recognise the EnAble fund as a first stepping-stone towards that goal.

Being a UK-based charity, we would also like to see similar programmes launched in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Above all, we would like to see disabled candidates and councillors receive better reasonable adjustments at all stages, from pre-selection through to serving in elected office.

However, we acknowledge that these goals are long-term and not within the remit of the current EnAble Fund.”

DR UK was unable to say whether there have been any applications for funding for this month’s European elections, which are only taking place because of parliament’s Brexit crisis, or how much funding has been allocated so far.

It has also been unable to say if parliamentary candidates will be able to apply for funding if a general election is called before March 2020.

But disabled candidates for next May’s police and crime commissioner elections can apply for support from the fund.

Cllr Peter Fleming, chair of LGA’s improvement and innovation board, said: “It is vital that the make-up of councils reflects their communities and their experience.

The LGA has been constantly working with councils towards increasing diversity and inclusion, including running our Be a Councillor campaign.”

He added: “Councils want to see more disabled people, parents and carers stand for election and to step up to leadership roles in local government to create a working environment which is attractive and supportive for people from all groups and backgrounds.”

16 May 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:52
Feb 142019
 

 

Tory conference police force admits sharing information on protesters with DWP

Disabled activists have demanded an inquiry after a police force that has patrolled four Conservative party conferences since 2010 admitted sharing information about protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has now become the second police force to admit sharing information about people taking part in protests with DWP, following a similar admission by Lancashire police.

But GMP has also admitted having a “sharing agreement” with DWP, even though the department explicitly stated two months ago that it had no such arrangements with any police force.

The admissions have followed claims reported by Disability News Service (DNS) that police forces have been targeting disabled protesters taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

Lancashire police then admitted in December that it had shared both information and video footage of disabled anti-fracking protesters with DWP, in an apparent attempt to have their disability benefits removed.

Last month, DWP refused to say – in response to a DNS freedom of information request – which police forces had passed it information about claimants of disability benefits who have taken part in anti-fracking and anti-austerity protests.

But Greater Manchester Police has now told DNS that it passed DWP information – but not video footage – about protesters taking part in the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, Salford.

Those protests took place in 2013 and 2014, but the force also confirmed that it has shared information with DWP from protests not connected with fracking.

This raises concerns that it has passed information to DWP about disabled people who protested in Manchester about the government’s austerity-related social security reforms, particularly high-profile actions in 2015 and 2017.

In 2017, disabled activists from the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) criticised “heavy-handed” police tactics at a direct action protest that blocked tram lines outside the conference.

The Tory party is due to return to Manchester in September for this year’s annual party conference.

Andy Greene, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Using the cover of suspected benefit fraud as a shroud for the targeting of disabled activists is outrageous.

These are public services and should be deploying every resource they have to support disabled people to be active and engaged citizens.

Yet, what we see is the use of those resources deployed against disabled people as if we are enemies of the state.

Violence, the weaponisation of hunger, the ‘grave and systemic violations of disabled people’s human rights’ – this is what we are experiencing at the hands of the police, the DWP and other public services every day.”

He added: “There needs to be an inquiry into what’s gone on; and where wrong has been done, people have to be held to account. 

Who made the decisions within these services to share this information, when, how were these decisions justified? 

Disabled people need to be shown – not words – that they are safe to take part in protests, demonstrations, campaigning and activism without the threat of police violence or having their benefits and services taken away. 

The policing of disabled people by the very services designed to empower and enable us is a dangerous road to go down.”

Dennis Queen, who lives in Manchester and was arrested at the 2017 protest for public disorder but was later found not guilty, also backed calls for an inquiry.

She said she did not understand how the police could lawfully know who was claiming disability benefits.

She said: “In the same vein I don’t understand what business it is of the DWP if a person decides to attend a protest.

As far as I am aware there are no questions in benefit claims about attending protests.

There is no rule that claimants may not attend protests for us to be breaking. If there is then we ought to have a right to know about it.

I can only assume this is being done to cause a chilling effect and make disabled people afraid to protest. As such, it’s an informal ban on protesting against disabled people.”

Three other police forces that have been involved in policing anti-fracking protests over the last six years – Sussex, Surrey and North Yorkshire – have told DNS that they have not passed on information about protesters to DWP.

A Greater Manchester Police spokesperson said in a statement: “As part of a sharing agreement, information about protestors has been passed to DWP but only in the event where concerns have been raised.

During the course of our duties, whether this is at protests or not, if any concerns are identified, we are duty-bound to pass these onto the relevant partner agencies in any policing operation. 

No-one is deterred from taking part in protests or exercising their right to free speech.

As with any operation, a strategy is put in place in order for us to facilitate peaceful protests with as little disruption to the local area as possible.

The sharing of information is a useful tool for both us and our partners, helping us to build greater intelligence pictures, identify areas of concerns and work better with the communities we serve.”

A force spokesperson later added: “Information was passed to DWP in relation to the Barton Moss protests.”

She said that the raising of concerns that lead to information being passed to DWP are those “identified from intelligence gathering before all protests, reports made by the public and information passed on by police officers on the ground”.

The spokesperson also confirmed that information had been passed to DWP about both anti-fracking and non-fracking-related protests.

It is not yet clear which other protests have led to information being passed to DWP by Greater Manchester Police.

A DWP spokesperson said: “There is no formal arrangement in place between DWP and any police force for this or other similar scenarios.”

She had not said by noon today (Thursday) whether this meant her department was accusing Greater Manchester Police of lying about its “sharing agreement” with DWP.

She also refused to say if the minister for disabled people accepted that this exchange of information with GMP risked creating a more hostile environment for disabled people who receive benefits.

She also refused to say if Newton accepted that there would be grave concerns over the possible sharing of information with DWP by GMP from anti-austerity protests that were critical of DWP and its policies at Tory party conferences in Manchester.

14 February 2019

 

 

Ministers block release of ‘no deal Brexit’ social care recruitment plans

Ministers are refusing to release information that would show what extra plans – if any – the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has put in place to deal with an adult social care recruitment crisis in the event of a “no deal Brexit”.

With just 43 days until Britain faces the possibility of leaving the European Union without a deal in place, DHSC claimed that “premature” release of the information could put at risk “effective policy formulation and development regarding our exit from the EU”.

Instead of releasing its records, it has pointed to “high level” plans published just before Christmas, but they suggest that ministers have no plans in place to deal with an adult social care recruitment crisis.

Disabled people who use personal assistants (PAs) have warned repeatedly of the risk that any form of Brexit could mean their access to PAs from EU countries could dry up, with a no-deal Brexit making this even more likely.

Inclusion London said in December that the impact of Brexit on social care recruitment was “potentially disastrous”.

The refusal by DHSC to release the information came in response to a freedom of information request from Disability News Service (DNS).

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has already laid out some plans, including a national recruitment campaign to “raise the image and profile” of the adult social care sector, which was launched this week, but these will go ahead regardless of the Brexit outcome.

The adult social care green paper – which has been postponed yet again because of the government’s Brexit struggles – is also set to look at how to “recruit and retain a valued workforce”, says DHSC.

But DNS has been trying since November to discover from DHSC whether Hancock has put any specific plans in place to deal with a possible recruitment crisis in adult social care if Britain tumbles into a no deal Brexit.

Evidence Hancock gave to the Commons health and social care committee in November suggested he had no such plans, but his department subsequently refused to confirm that this was the case.

Following Hancock’s evidence, DNS asked through a freedom of information request what recorded information the department possessed on preparations it had made for dealing with recruitment into the social care sector in the event of a no deal Brexit.

DHSC says in its response that it does hold information “relevant to your request” but is relying on an exemption under section 35(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, which allows it to refuse to release information “relating to the formulation and development of government policy”.

Guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office makes it clear that a government department can only rely on this exemption “if the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure”.

DHSC says in its response that “premature” disclosure of the information – just a few weeks before Brexit – “could prejudice effective policy formulation and development regarding our exit from the EU”.

It adds: “We feel that the public interest would be better served by protecting effective policy making as we continue to negotiate our exit from the EU/prepare for all EU exit scenarios.”

But the disabled peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, disability spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said the DHSC refusal “suggests that there is no plan if there is a ‘no deal Brexit’”.

She said: “This just confirms our worst fears that, in the event of no deal Brexit, there will simply not be enough personal assistants to help disabled people live their lives properly if those from Europe stop coming, or those that are here go home.

This is a shocking state of affairs, which the government must face up to. It is not good enough just to hope for the best. They must take urgent action.”

The DHSC response does direct DNS to its “high-level plans”, which were published four days before Christmas and include letters to adult social care providers and commissioners about the government’s plans in the event of a no deal Brexit.

They also include the department’s “Brexit operational readiness guidance for the health and care system in England”, which again deals with action that should be taken in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

But the letters and guidance suggest that while DHSC has put into place a series of contingency plans for the NHS, some of which would also support the adult social care sector in the event of a no deal Brexit, it has done nothing to prepare for a possible social care recruitment crisis.

In a letter to adult social care providers, Sir Chris Wormald, DHSC’s permanent secretary, says: “To ensure you are as prepared as possible, we encourage all social care providers to have fully up to date and robust contingency plans for the possible implications for a ‘no deal’ EU Exit.”

But on workforce issues, his letter merely points providers to the government’s EU settlement scheme, which protects the rights of EU citizens already living in the UK, and which will apply whether there is a deal or not.

He also encourages providers to provide data on their workforce to a national scheme more regularly than they would usually do, as this “provides an important source for our national workforce risk assessments and we will be drawing data from it on a regular basis throughout the first six months of [2019]”.

In his letter to local authority chief executives and directors of adult social care, Sir Chris encourages them “to work closely with your adult social care providers… to assure yourself that any impact on providers can be managed locally”.

And he reminds them of “the importance of having robust contingency plans in place so that the duty to ensure continuity of services can be met”.

He adds: “I know that Local Authorities’ contingency plans will take into account the potential effects from a ‘no deal’ EU Exit scenario and you will be considering the impact on vulnerable people who use adult social care services.”

He says DHSC will “work closely” with the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to support councils in this work and “ensure that activity is co-ordinated nationally across the health and care system”.

But he provides no suggestions for what steps DHSC has taken or will take to deal with the impact of a no deal Brexit on adult social care recruitment.

DHSC’s Brexit operational readiness guidance, also published on 21 December, focuses heavily on health and the NHS.

In the workforce section, it merely says: “The current expectation is that there will not be a significant degree of health and care staff leaving around exit day.

Organisations can escalate concerns through existing reporting mechanisms to ensure there is regional and national oversight.”

Despite this optimism, in an annex laying out suggested actions for NHS providers, the guidance warns them to “consider the implications of further staff shortages caused by EU Exit across the health and care system, such as in adult social care, and the impact that would have on your organisation”.

A DHSC spokesperson refused again to say what extra plans – if any – DHSC has put in place to deal with a possible adult social care recruitment crisis in the event of a no deal Brexit.

He suggested that DNS could ask for an internal review of the department’s freedom of information response. DNS has already asked for such a review.

14 February 2019

 

 

MPs hear of ways to save benefit claimants from harm… or even death

Disabled activists and shadow ministers at a parliamentary meeting have been told of ways they could help to reduce the appalling damage caused by the government’s hated “fitness for work” assessment and other social security cuts and reforms.

Academics, researchers, politicians and campaigners spoke at yesterday’s (Thursday’s) meeting, which was hosted and organised by Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell as part of a lobby of parliament.

The First Do No Harm lobby focused on the continuing refusal of ministers to ensure that sufficient medical evidence is gathered before decisions are made on claims for out-of-work disability benefits, particularly for people with mental distress.

Years of research has shown that deaths of claimants have been closely linked to the failure to ensure this further medical evidence is obtained.

A series of speakers described the continuing harm – including deaths – caused to disabled people by the work capability assessment (WCA) process and the sanctioning of claimants.

Labour shadow ministers said they would shortly be launching a consultation on designing a new social security system that has “respect at its core and treats people with dignity”.

This will include scrapping the WCA and the personal independence payment assessment and replacing them with a personalised assessment process and putting an end to the privatisation of the assessment process through companies like Atos, Maximus and Capita.

But two speakers also suggested that there was crucial short-term action that could be taken to save the lives of disabled people before any change of government.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, delivered a presentation on behalf of Edinburgh GP Dr Stephen Carty, the campaign’s medical adviser.

Dr Carty said he often includes a written warning at the bottom of the Med 3 form that GPs must fill out when someone is not well enough to work – known as the fit note – that the patient would be “at substantial risk of a deterioration in their physical and/or mental health” if found fit for work or work-related activity after a WCA.

He said he adds: “If a decision is made not to award this claimant benefits and there is a significant adverse outcome I will report the medical decision maker to the General Medical Council.”

He has to take this step because there is no other system in place to do so, he said.

He added: “I have lost count of the numbers of evictions [and] drug and alcohol relapses whilst in recovery and medical catastrophes related to adverse benefit decisions.”

Dr Carty said that both the Med 3 form and the claim form for out-of-work disability benefits should be amended to ask the claimant’s GP directly – in every case involving a sick or disabled claimant – if there would be a substantial risk of harm if the claimant was found fit for work or to be able to carry out some work-related activity.

McArdle told the meeting that this was a human rights issue that “ought in a civilised society to transcend all forms of party politics” and that MPs needed to work on a cross-party basis to introduce such a change.

He hopes this change could now come through pressure from an early day motion and a private member’s bill.

He told the meeting: “I don’t think anybody reasonably can deny the direct link between the WCA and people dying in destitution and from suicide.

We need to work together to get more than half of these MPs to say enough is enough. This must happen.”

Rick Burgess, of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People and Recovery in the Bin, detailed four ways in which campaigners could immediately save lives and reduce some of the harm being caused to disabled benefit claimants by taking action at local level.

The first, he said, was to talk to local Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and jobcentre area managers, and MPs, councillors and council officers, about sanctions that have been imposed and “see what wiggle room there might be” to reduce or remove them.

He said: “The product of most of those conversations has been not a big reduction but a reduction.” Every one of these conversations could result in a life saved, he said.

Secondly, campaigners can put pressure on local councils not to cut their welfare assistance schemes – if they still exist – and can raise awareness of such schemes.

A third measure, he said, was to provide and raise awareness about advice and advocacy, help people to record their benefit assessments, and accompany them to their assessments and appeals.