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Oct 102019
 

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

 

Anger as police confiscate Extinction Rebellion accessible toilets, ramps and wheelchairs

A police force has been accused of discrimination and “abusive” behaviour after confiscating ramps, wheelchairs and even accessible toilets that were intended to make this week’s Extinction Rebellion climate change protests in London more inclusive – and safer – for disabled activists.

Members of the Disabled Rebels group had spent months working with the organisers of Extinction Rebellion (XR) to ensure that the protests taking place this week and next would be accessible and inclusive, as reported last week by Disability News Service.

But the Metropolitan police have sabotaged those preparations by impounding two mobile accessible toilets that had been rented by XR, and arresting two members of staff working for the charity that was providing the equipment.

That police action on Monday near St James’s Park, Westminster, followed a police raid on a building in south London on Saturday, which led to eight arrests and the seizure of independent living aids and other equipment being stored by XR.

Organisers said later that the equipment seized included wheelchairs, ramps, noise-cancelling headphones for autistic protesters, camp beds for those unable to sleep on the floor, and solar-powered charging equipment for wheelchairs and scooters.

As a result of the seizure of this equipment and the accessible toilets two days later, plans for a disability hub in St James’s Park had to be abandoned.

The hub was to have provided a central place for disabled people to gather, rest, receive information, take part in training, provide peer support, and begin to build a movement of disabled people on climate change.

There was further anger over Monday’s police’s actions, after it emerged that – following six hours of negotiations with XR – a senior officer had apparently given permission for the two converted vans, each containing an accessible toilet, a changing bench, shower facilities and a ceiling hoist, to be driven into the occupied protest area.

Two members of staff working for the charity that hires out the vans at subsidised rates – Mobiloo, founded by retired Irish Paralympian James Brown – were then arrested, along with two XR protesters, even though they had been given permission to bring the vans into the protest area and had apparently been following instructions from a police officer on where to park them.

One of the two Mobiloo staff members later had to be taken from a police station to hospital after an angina attack, believed to have been caused by the stress of being arrested and held in custody.

All four are believed to have been arrested for conspiracy to cause a public nuisance and obstructing a public highway.

Sandra Daniels, one of the activists behind XR Disabled Rebels, said the police actions had caused health and safety problems for disabled protesters, and were likely to lead to an official complaint to the force, and possibly legal action.

She said: “The access for disabled people has been limited by the police. It has stopped disabled people being included.

We have the right as disabled people to protest. In effect they have stopped that right.”

She said Disabled Rebels had challenged XR to make the fortnight of protests accessible and inclusive, and XR had been “supportive”, but because of the police action that inclusion had not been possible.

She said: “Once again I feel we have been excluded as disabled people, and we have a right to protest.”

Another Disabled Rebel, Nicki, said the police decision to impound the Mobiloos “could have huge implications” for disabled people’s health, wellbeing and dignity.

She said: “It has meant that some people have had to stay away; their right to peaceful protest has been taken away by this decision.

This has been a huge blow to disabled people wanting to participate, coming just days after so much access equipment was seized from the XR warehouse on Saturday.

This equipment was crucial for the safety and welfare of sick and disabled people.

One of XR’s principles states that we welcome everybody and every part of everybody.

We really hoped to achieve this and XR had been so positive about embracing radical inclusion of disabled activists.”

Alex Howell, Mobiloo’s operations director, has been told that his charity’s two drivers waited for six hours while XR’s liaison team negotiated permission to bring in the two vans.

They were then given permission to do so by a senior officer, and the vans were driven through the police cordon by two XR volunteers, with the Mobiloo staff – who were not part of the protest – in the cabs.

All four of them were then arrested, and taken to Acton police station, with the two vans impounded.

Howell said: “My concern is for my staff, first and foremost. Them being put in a situation where they were following police instructions and were arrested is quite concerning.

It does make us reticent to be involved in protests in the future.”

He said Mobiloo had not heard from the police about how or when they could retrieve their vans, which had been booked by XR for the two weeks Extinction Rebellion is expected to last.

Howell said: “Taking part in a protest is something someone should be able to do. If someone is disabled, they need accessible toilet facilities to be able to do that.

We were just providing a service as we would do to anyone.”

Extinction Rebellion said today (Thursday) that it was keeping a record of “abusive police behaviour”, following the forceful confiscation of “shelter, food, water and anything that might allow disabled people to conveniently participate”.

It has called for witness accounts of such behaviour to be emailed to: xr-legal@riseup.net.

A Met police spokesperson said all those arrested in south London had been released under investigation, while the property had been searched using powers under section 32 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

He said: “Officers seized a large amount of equipment at the address. The property will be retained while the investigation is ongoing.”

He added: “It is the police’s role to provide a lawful and proportionate policing response to any planned protest, balancing the community impact with the right to protest.

Officers have powers to seize any equipment which they believe will facilitate unlawful protest.

This forms part of our robust, proportionate policing plan which we continue to keep under review.

If protestors break the law, officers will look to arrest those people. Furthermore, those people can expect to be charged, prosecuted, and receive a criminal record.”

The force had not commented on the St James’s Park negotiations and arrests by noon today (Thursday).

10 October 2019

 

 

Criticism over ‘shocking’ appointments to ODI’s new disability networks

The government is facing criticism over its decision to appoint representatives of just two disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) – and a leading disabled Tory – to chair its new regional stakeholder networks.

The minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, this week announced eight chairs to lead the networks across England.

But it appears that only two of the chairs who have been appointed lead representative organisations run and controlled by disabled people, an apparent flouting of the government’s obligations under the UN disability convention.

Three of the new appointments are bosses of disability charities, one leads a community interest company and one is described as a board member of the veterans advisory and pension committee.

And Barry Ginley, who will chair the south-east network, is vice-chair of the Conservative Disability Group, although he is described in this week’s government announcement as director of a consultancy company.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how Ginley had defended the government’s disability policies, and had dismissed three highly critical reports by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as concerns about the impact of Brexit on social care, disability rights and access to medication.

Another of the newly-appointed chairs, Ruth Owen, chief executive of the charity Whizz-Kidz, and a wheelchair-user herself, will chair the Greater London regional network.

A third of the new chairs, Liz Leach Murphy, founder of the social enterprise Imagineer, who has a long-term health condition, will chair the Yorkshire and the Humber network.

Another chair, Samantha Everard, chief executive of the charity Support and Mentoring Enabling Entrepreneurship, who also has a long-term health condition, will chair the south-west network.

Lynne Turnbull, chief executive of Cheshire Centre for Independent Living, the new north-west chair, and one of the two disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) represented in the appointments, is another disabled appointee.

She said the networks were “a brilliant opportunity to influence government policy”.

She said: “This is about bringing the voice of disabled people and DPOs across the north-west and making sure that is heard within government.”

Turnbull said the appointment of chairs who were not from representative organisations of disabled people was a matter for the government, but she added: “If you’re chairing a network made up of disabled people and their organisations, that is the voice you’re taking forward.”

She said she would be “really keen” to look at the membership of her network and “make sure it’s appropriate and representing the voice of disabled people and DPOs”.

She said that, “in an ideal world”, it will be made up only of disabled people and representatives of DPOs, although she had not yet seen her membership list.

The other chairs are Naomi Tomkys, chief executive of Sky Badger (east); Michael Potts, a board member of the veterans advisory and pension committee (north-east); and Louise Mckiernan, chief executive of Birmingham Disability Resource Centre (West and East Midlands), the other DPO represented in the new appointments.

The networks will be tasked with “amplifying the voices of disabled people and disability organisations in regions across England” and then reporting back to the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) on issues including transport, housing and employment.

The delay in announcing the names of the chairs and members of the networks had already attracted criticism, as had the government’s refusal to pay them, with the networks described by one leading disabled campaigner as “the worst kind of phoney engagement”.

At least five of the eight chairs announced this week identify as disabled people or have a long-term health condition.

Their first meeting took place on Tuesday (8 October).

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “We are shocked but not surprised by the appointments to the chairs of the regional stakeholder forums.”

She said most of the chairs did not appear to represent Deaf and disabled people’s organisations (DDPOs).

She said: “Rather than work with DDPOs, as they are obliged to do under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the government has instead, once again, chosen to carry out yet another cynical window-dressing exercise in engagement.

In reality, these forums fail all the measures of meaningful engagement: they are not forums of disabled people, they are not representative of DDPOs, they are not strategic, they are not resourced and they will operate in a policy vacuum.

This is simply not acceptable.

After 10 years of systematic retrogression of our rights and inclusion, the government must meet its UNCRPD obligations and begin working with us in a real and strategic way to get our rights and inclusion back on track.”

UNCRPD makes it clear that, when developing laws and policies relating to disabled people, governments “must closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations”.

It defines “representative organizations” as those that are “led, directed and governed by persons with disabilities”, a definition which the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities included in its general comment number seven, which was adopted in September 2018.

Each of the new regional groups will be led by an independent chair and consist of between 10 and 40 members, who will all be “either disabled people, charities or organisations that represent disabled people”.

The groups will only be funded to meet once a year and will have to pay for any further meetings they arrange themselves, but ODI will still expect them to provide input throughout the year via email.

In response to concerns about the selection process, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson said the chairs were “selected based on their skills, knowledge, experience, and proven track record working as advocates for disabled people within their regions”.

DNS had not asked DWP about its failure to appoint representatives of DPOs.

10 October 2019

 

 

Dismal’ job figures show failure of Disability Confident, says de Cordova

The government’s much-criticised Disability Confident jobs scheme appears to be growing increasingly less successful at persuading employers to offer jobs to disabled people, according to new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.

The figures, secured by Disability News Service (DNS) through a freedom of information (FoI) request, show that the 13,600 employers that have signed up to the scheme since it was launched in 2013 have pledged to provide just 8,763 paid jobs for disabled people between them.

This is an average of less than two-thirds of a job per employer.

Many of those that have signed up to Disability Confident are large employers such as local authorities, government departments, manufacturers, national charities, banks and retailers, including the big four supermarkets, more than 100 NHS trusts, and high street banks.

The figures provide fresh evidence that the scheme is “trivially easy to abuse” and allows employers to describe themselves as “disability confident” without being assessed on that claim, and without employing a single disabled person.

Three years ago, DWP declared itself a gold-standard employer of disabled people under the scheme – securing the status of “Disability Confident Leader” – just days before being found guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of the UN disability convention.

The new figures show that about 13,600 employers that had signed up to the scheme by 13 September had promised to provide 8,763 new paid jobs and 1,903 traineeships for disabled people between them*.

This compares with figures from last year year which showed how at that stage 4,586 paid jobs and 1,223 traineeships had been promised by 6,841 employers.

This means there is so far an average of 0.64 jobs per employer and 0.78 jobs and traineeships per employer, compared with 0.67 jobs and 0.85 jobs and traineeships per employer 15 months ago.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “These dismal figures are yet more evidence of the failure of this government’s Disability Confident scheme.

Under the government’s flagship employment scheme, you can become a Disability Confident employer without employing a single disabled person.

The Disability Confident scheme lacks any accountability, transparency or credible performance measures to ensure that employers recruit disabled people.

Labour is committed to halving the disability employment gap, closing the disability pay gap and ensuring that disabled people have equal access to the labour market.”

David Gillon, a disabled campaigner and one of the most prominent critics of the Disability Confident scheme, said: “The number of disabled jobs created by the scheme is sadly pathetic.

Less than one job per employer, when disabled people make up one in five of the workforce.

Under 9,000 new jobs across the three years of the revamped scheme, yet disability employment has supposedly increased by 246,000 in the past year.

So Disability Confident is responsible for a little over one per cent of new jobs for disabled people, even though it includes some of the largest employers in the country.

The figures are so bad you have to wonder if Disability Confident employers are actually less likely to employ disabled people [than those not signed up to the scheme].”

Gillon said Disability Confident had still signed up just “a 0.002 per cent sized drop in the ocean of 5.7 million private sector employers”.

He said: “It is obvious that Disability Confident just doesn’t grab employers by the scruff of the neck and say, ‘This is something you need to compete in today’s market.’

When Disability Confident actually asks for less than the law requires in places, this is worrying.

Disabled people remain three times more likely than non-disabled to be economically inactive.

Fully 3.3 million disabled people are not looking for work and that number isn’t falling, it’s slowly increasing.

Some of those people will be unable to work, but a significant proportion will have some capability to work with appropriate adjustments, but have learned through grim experience that the jobs market is unwilling to consider us.

This is a lesson reinforced every time we see a disabled person forced out of work because an employer has no respect for our rights, and Disability Confident simply isn’t challenging our confidence in the truth of that lesson.”

DWP has so far been unable to say how many of the 8,763 jobs that were pledged by Disability Confident members resulted in paid jobs for disabled people.

Asked why the Disability Confident scheme appeared to be so unsuccessful – and getting worse – at persuading employers to provide new jobs for disabled people, and whether the figures showed the scheme was “trivially easy to abuse”, a DWP spokesperson said: “Disability Confident is a business-led scheme designed to support businesses of all sizes to recruit, support and retain disabled workers.

We are constantly reviewing and strengthening the process, and we’ve made great progress, with two-thirds of large employers surveyed having employed a disabled person as a result of joining the scheme.

There are now 1.15 million more disabled people in work compared to six years ago, but there is always more that can be done.

We hope to continue to increase sign ups and ensure that all businesses can reap the rewards of employing disabled people.

The DWP spokesperson has so far been unable to provide any detailed figures relating to the “two-thirds of large employers” who he said had employed a disabled person as a result of joining the scheme.

*The freedom of information response failed to provide figures for how many apprenticeships have been promised by employers

10 October 2019

 

 

Government’s silence over sex abuse inquiry evidence

A government department appears to be trying to cover up evidence that a former senior civil servant – later arrested over two unconnected rape allegations – may have helped block tougher laws on the sexual abuse of disabled people.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) promised five years ago that it would pass “all known documentation” about the possible actions of Brian McGinnis to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

Disability News Service (DNS) asked DHSC this summer if it had kept its promise and passed the documents about the actions of McGinnis in the 1980s to the inquiry, but was told by the department’s press office to submit a freedom of information (FoI) request.

Now the department, headed by health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, has finally answered that FoI request, but its response claims that it would be too expensive to check whether it kept its word.

Its freedom of information department says in the response that it would be a “very time-consuming process” to confirm if it passed information to IICSA because it would have to search “a vast quantity of files”.

It claims it would take one person more than three-and-a-half days to search its archives.

It took more than a week for DHSC’s press office to respond to questions about the FoI response.

When a DHSC spokesperson eventually responded, he refused to comment; or explain why DHSC could not just ask the IICSA inquiry team if it had received information about McGinnis; or say whether the department had breached its safeguarding duties by failing to keep track of information passed to the inquiry.

An IICSA spokesperson said: “The inquiry cannot comment on whether it has or has not received evidence from a particular individual or organisation outside its public hearings.”

But he said he had passed on DNS’s concerns about DHSC and McGinnis to the inquiry team.

The DHSC promise to pass on documents to IICSA was made in 2014 after concerns were raised that McGinnis may – in the 1980s – have helped to stop MPs tightening laws protecting people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions from sexual abuse.

McGinnis was named in 2014 in a report into the activities of the disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile at Broadmoor hospital, as he was the senior civil servant in charge of mental health in the Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) in 1986, shortly before Savile was appointed to a new board to run the hospital.

The report mentioned that McGinnis had “since been the subject of two allegations that have been made public”, which “arose in the course of his voluntary sector work with disturbed and abused children, and both cases were dropped without charge”.

Those allegations were made public in a news story written by DNS editor John Pring in Disability Now magazine in 2006.

McGinnis has always claimed to be innocent of the two separate rape allegations and insists that he is a lifelong “celibate”.

In 1985, the year before McGinnis left DHSS, MPs on the Commons social services committee had called for an “independent expert review of law and practice on sexuality and contraception in relation to mentally disabled people”.

But DHSS dismissed the idea in its response to the committee’s report, warning that “a major review might simply attract unwelcome, unhealthy and wholly disproportionate media interest without achieving any helpful consensus”.

It is believed that this response could have come from McGinnis.

The review never took place, and law reform that would make it easier to secure convictions for rape and indecent assault of people with learning difficulties and experience of mental distress was delayed until 2003, when a new act introduced fresh offences and tougher sentences.

DNS was led to believe five years ago by the Department of Health (as it was known at the time) that any material it held on McGinnis that related to the DHSS response to the social services committee would be passed to the child abuse inquiry that had recently been launched by the Home Office.

It also claimed that it was examining its archives to check whether McGinnis had influenced the DHSS response in 1985.

It later confirmed that it was investigating whether McGinnis may have helped to block tougher sexual abuse legislation.

A DH spokesperson said in August 2014: “We are taking this issue very seriously and investigating whether there is any relevant material held on file.”

But DHSC is now claiming it would be too time-consuming to check its records to confirm if it did pass any documents to IICSA.

McGinnis, who became a special advisor for the charity Mencap after leaving the civil service, but left that role more than 10 years ago, has never been convicted, or even charged, with any offence.

But he has been arrested twice over unconnected rape allegations, one of which involved a child with learning difficulties at the notorious Betts Way respite home in Bromley, Kent, in the mid-1990s.

The arrests came in March 2001 and August 2005 and both resulted in McGinnis, who is now in his early 80s and is believed to live in Shirley, Croydon, being released without charge.

He has always denied the allegations.

Until the allegations about his behaviour were publicised in 2006, he was an influential figure in the disability world, with links to a string of charities, learning difficulty organisations and his local church in Shirley.

Following his first arrest, Bromley council advised its staff to “disassociate” McGinnis “with anything related to children with learning difficulties and council services”.

Croydon council later told church authorities that McGinnis “should be suspended from duties that involved him working with children”, after being informed by Bromley council about the 2005 arrest. He had at the time been working with a children’s church group.

10 October 2019

 

 

Tomlinson dodges questions over serious case panel

The minister for disabled people has refused to provide MPs with any details of government plans to set up an independent panel to examine cases where his department’s failings have led to the deaths of benefit claimants.

The spending round document published by the Treasury on 4 September said the new “independent serious case panel” would aim to improve DWP “safeguarding”.

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

But following that announcement, DWP refused to explain why it was setting up the new serious case panel.

Now, a month later, Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, has been asked about the plans in the House of Commons.

Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, told Tomlinson that a catalogue of DWP failings had “created a hostile environment for disabled people”.

And she said: “The announcement of the new independent serious case panel lacks any meaningful detail, terms of reference or purpose.”

De Cordova asked Tomlinson to confirm if the new panel would review previous deaths linked to benefits, and if he would describe the panel’s “statement of purpose”.

But Tomlinson refused to answer the question, telling de Cordova instead how DWP worked “all year round with claimants, stakeholders and charities – organisations with real-life experience – to help to improve not only the training but the understanding of all areas of disability and health conditions”, and backed that up with “genuine financial support”.

DWP also refused – again – to answer questions from Disability News Service (DNS) about the serious case panel this week, including whether the new work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey had now ditched the idea.

But de Cordova told DNS: “The government’s announcement of a new independent serious case panel lacks any detail, terms of reference or statement of purpose.

At DWP [oral questions], the minister failed to give any concrete answer on the nature of the panel, or to confirm whether the panel will examine the DWP’s own failings surrounding social security-related deaths.

It is of the upmost importance that these questions are answered and that the government are committed to investigating the hostile environment it has created in the DWP.”

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

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

DNS has spent more than five years highlighting DWP’s safeguarding failings.

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

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

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

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

10 October 2019

 

 

Third report in a month raises fresh concerns over SEND system

An ombudsman has added to increasing concerns about the special educational needs and disability (SEND) system in England after revealing that it has been upholding an “exceptional and unprecedented” number of complaints.

The new report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman into the education, health and care (EHC) plan process is now the third in a month to raise serious concerns about the support provided to disabled children and young people.

The ombudsman is now upholding nearly nine out of every 10 cases (87 per cent) it investigates, compared with 57 per cent of other cases, and says this suggests a “system in crisis”.

In 2018-19, it received 45 per cent more complaints and carried out 80 per cent more detailed investigations about EHC plans than in 2016-17.

Ombudsman Michael King said he was “particularly concerned” that some local authorities could now be putting extra barriers in place to “ration scarce resources”, rather than basing support on children’s needs.

And he said the report suggested a system “beset with serious problems”, with “severe delays” of up to 90 weeks, some council areas without any specialist provision, and EHC plans often issued without any advice from health or social services.

The ombudsman’s report came days after research by the National Deaf Children’s Society found that more than half of local councils and health authorities in England had failed inspections of their joint services for children with SEND by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.

According to the charity, 100 of England’s joint services have been inspected since local area SEND inspections began in 2016, and 51 of them failed that inspection.

And just last month, the National Audit Office found that the needs of many disabled pupils in England were not being met, while councils were under growing financial pressure because more children were attending special schools.

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

The week before the NAO report was published, education secretary Gavin Williamson had announced a review of support for children with SEND.

Meanwhile, on Monday, three families with disabled children heard that the high court has rejected their claim that the government acted unlawfully by failing to provide enough funding for local authorities to meet their legal obligations to educate children with SEND.

All three of the families – supported by the SEND Action campaign network – have been unable to secure the support their disabled child needs with their education.

The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) has repeatedly called on the government to recognise that it has been breaching its duties under article 24 (on inclusive education) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities raised concerns about the increasing number of disabled children being educated in segregated settings and said the UK education system was “not equipped to respond to the requirements for high-quality inclusive education”.

Michelle Daley, ALLFIE’s interim director, said: “This year alone we have seen a series of disturbing reports that are screaming out the problems and failings to disabled learners.”

She said the title of the ombudsman’s “shocking review” – Not Going to Plan? – “signifies the sad reality for disabled pupils and students”.  

Daley said there was now plenty of evidence of the crisis and the need for urgent action rather than any more reviews.

She said: “What we need is a properly resourced education system that is inclusive for learners.

We need the education of disabled learners considered as a human rights matter and for that to happen we need the UNCRPD article 24 implemented into our domestic law with no reservations.”

Daley said ALLFIE was “totally devastated” by the court’s decision, which she said showed the weakness of the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty “in producing no meaningful outcomes for disabled people”.

She said: “Even though there was plenty of evidence about the funding crisis, the court still decided to remain with the existing formula that doesn’t improve the situation for disabled learners and keeps them trapped in appalling situations.”

She praised the three families and their children and supporters for taking the case and “helping to raise the profile of the crisis and the inequality in education for disabled learners”.

She said: “This is not the end. The fight must continue. We must end the dual education system and inequality in education for all disabled learners.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “As the ombudsman admits, this report is based on a very small sample size – covering less than 0.3 per cent [of all the new EHC plans that were issued in 2018]. 

Over 48,000 children were issued with new education, health and care plans last year, and the majority of these were completed within 20 weeks.

During the assessment process children continue to attend their school and receive additional support, until their tailored support package is put into place.

We’ve also announced an extra £700 million for pupils with complex needs in 2020-21 – an 11 per cent increase on this year.

However, we know the system is not working well enough for every family, and have launched a review to introduce further improvements.”

10 October 2019

 

 

Accelerator scheme plans to open door to inclusion

Five organisations led by disabled people are to benefit from a new “accelerator” programme that aims to boost their work on social inclusion.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Inclusion London, Love Language, Grid Smarter Cities and SociAbility are all disabled-led and are among the first 10 organisations to be chosen for the OpenDoor “inclusion accelerator” pilot programme.

The programme will provide them with workshops, mentoring and one-to-one support that is designed to help them develop their own products, services and projects.

It is being run by Plexal, the innovation centre and “coworking space” based in the Olympic Park in east London.

DR UK will be receiving support for its plan to create an online marketplace for disabled innovators and entrepreneurs to showcase their products and services to other disabled people.

Kamran Mallick, chief executive of DR UK, said: “We want to address the problem of how disabled people find the right products and services that offer solutions for everyday barriers to living independently, especially when most products and services are developed and marketed by non-disabled people and companies.

The marketplace would also showcase peer-tested and recommended items for sale.

These can be tech solutions such as apps that help you find accessible routes or give you information on access levels at places like restaurants, to everyday independent living equipment.”

Mallick said the 12-week programme would support DR UK to “test and learn” and “support us in refining the idea to a point that we can pitch to potential investors”.

He said: “OpenDoor will give us access to industry mentors, who will bring their extensive knowledge on how the tech industry uses tried and tested techniques to evaluate ideas and bring them to the market.”

Love Learning, a collaboration between Love Language and Idea East, uses digital technology to tackle the disparity between the number of Deaf people and the number of available British Sign Language interpreters. 

Plexal plans to help prototype the technology and present it to investors.

SociAbility provides detailed accessibility information for local social venues and shops, while Travel MI by Grid Smarter Cities aims to improve accessible wayfinding in busy areas, particularly airports. 

Plexal will support SociAbility and Travel MI by helping them build partnerships with transport organisations.

And Inclusion London is supporting internships for young people with learning difficulties, with Plexal helping to set up the programme with employers in the Olympic Park.

Last month, Plexal and its partners announced the launch of the East London Inclusive Enterprise Zone (ELIEZ), which it described as the UK’s most accessible technology hub.

ELIEZ will develop an accessible space for entrepreneurs and businesses leaders who are disabled or are focused on providing products or services to disabled people.

It will also aim to build on the London 2012 Paralympic Games legacy by developing links with Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024.

Among Plexal’s partners on ELIEZ are Inclusion London, DR UK, Loughborough University, UCL (University College London), Greater London Authority and the Global Disability Innovation Hub (GDIH), which is based on UCL’s Olympic Park campus.

ELIEZ aims to meet some of the “enormous international need for disability innovation and assistive technology” and has set itself a target of launching 100 new start-ups.

It says it wants to “kick-start the UK’s first inclusive innovation sector”.

Its partners highlight the fact that only one in 10 disabled people currently has access to the assistive technology they need to go to school, work, or have a family.

10 October 2019

 

 

Stephen Aselford: Tributes paid to ‘energetic and passionate campaigner’

Friends and fellow activists have paid tribute to Stephen Aselford – a passionate disabled campaigner who was committed to improving the lives of others – after his sudden death.

They have described not only his commitment to social justice, equality and disability rights, but also his kind and cheerful nature.

Aselford worked originally in a sheltered workshop in Croydon, where he joined the GMB union, of which he remained a member all his life.

He later played a significant role in several London-based disability organisations, including People First (Self-Advocacy), Transport for All (TfA) and Disability Croydon.

He was also a long-time member of the Labour party and friends say that he loved public transport, his family, Croydon and “shaming Tory politicians”.

One of his finest moments, says his friend and fellow disabled activist Ellen Clifford, was when he confronted Tory mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith in 2015 about voting for the government’s cuts to support for disabled people placed in the work-related activity group of employment and support allowance.

Another was in 2015, when Aselford wrote of how a planned BNP demonstration was “an attempt to stir up hatred and divide our community”, and described his pride at living in such a “diverse and vibrant” area as Croydon.

He wrote: “Migrants were not responsible for the financial crisis. In fact, our economy and vital services that disabled people rely on, including the NHS and social care services, are dependent on migrant labour.”

Among those sending condolences this week was John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor and a long-standing supporter of many grassroots disabled people’s organisations.

Aselford was a dedicated member of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and a co-founder of Bromley and Croydon DPAC.

Clifford said: “Stephen was an energetic and committed campaigner with an instinctive passion for social justice.

He was also a thoroughly lovely person with a great sense of humour.

He was knowledgeable and politically insightful and had great ideas. As a beloved friend he is badly missed and as an activist he leaves a big hole in the movement.

The best way to honour his memory is to continue the fight that was so central to his life.”

Andrew Lee, director of People First (Self Advocacy), said Aselford was “a great friend, advocate and activist.

He was a passionate campaigner locally and nationally and was well known for his strong views on accessible transport and the right to vote for people with learning difficulties.

Stephen worked really hard to make sure that people with learning difficulties had a voice and were heard – particularly our ‘political voice’.

He helped others realise that we have views on all sorts of things, not just disability issues.

Wherever he went, he lit up the room.”

Aselford worked for People First for three years, between 2008 and 2011, as an inclusion worker, helping to build the capacity of its member organisations.

Lee said: “It’s important for us to remember Stephen’s energy and commitment to making the lives of others better. He achieved so much and we sadly lost him far too early.”

Aselford was also a long-time member and trustee of TfA.

Alan Benson, TfA’s chair, said: “He was deeply committed to the importance of transport for the public good and specifically for the well-being of disabled and older people.

He could often be found supporting protests, picket lines or events promoting or
defending public transport.

His strongly held beliefs were rooted in an incredibly detailed knowledge of trains and buses, both old and new.

He was always willing to share this passion and could be relied upon to know exactly what was going on in the transport sector.

But perhaps the thing Stephen should be best remembered for is his kind
and cheerful nature.

He was always one of the first to arrive at Transport for All events, where his irrepressible positivity was infectious.

He will be sorely missed by those that knew him and by the campaigns he supported.”

Paula Peters, co-founder of Bromley and Croydon DPAC, said her friend was always ready with a smile and a joke and loved DPAC’s direct actions, which he called its “naughtiness”.

She said he had provided “great political insight, with great experience and knowledge” in his role as equalities officer for Unite Community’s new Bromley and Croydon branch.

She said: “His passing is a great loss to our movement. We miss a treasured friend, comrade and activist, but we will honour Steve’s memory by continuing the fight for human rights as he would want us to do.”

Michelle Gordon, GMB’s equalities officer, said Aselford had been active in the union for many years and had been determined to make it more accessible to disabled people, while he often spoke of the importance of young people joining the union movement and the need to do more to promote its successes.

She said: “Stephen will be sadly missed but his legacy of making our movement more accessible will live on.” 

Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC said: “Stephen was involved with DPAC for many years and was a lovely man who will be missed by many people.”

Leanne Purvis, a fellow self-advocate and long-standing friend through People First, said: “Big Steve was a big help to anyone and nice to talk to. He was my friend and I will miss him a lot.”

Andy Ward, a friend and fellow member of Croydon constituency Labour party, said he was “a great campaigner for disability rights and in the field of public transport” whose knowledge and expertise on public transport and accessibility was “almost unsurpassed”.

He said: “He will be sadly missed both for his disability rights campaigning and for his campaigning for better accessible public transport.”

Tony Newman, leader of Croydon council, said: “Stephen was over many years a tireless campaigner for disabled people, and worked hard to ensure everyone received the maximum amount of support possible.

Stephen was a gentle, kind man who along with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the transport system will be greatly missed by all.”

Croydon councillor Karen Jewitt said: “I was proud of Stephen. He was a friend as well as a comrade.

I will miss him. His contribution to equality and the Labour movement is something we should all aspire to.”

DPAC plans to organise an event to commemorate Stephen Aselford’s life and work.

10 October 2019

 

 

Legal firm hands out cameras to help disabled passengers prove discrimination

Disabled people who experience repeated discrimination on public transport are being offered a camera to record video evidence for possible legal cases.

Legal firm Fry Law, which specialises in disability discrimination cases, is hoping some of the evidence produced can then be used to bring cases under the Equality Act against bus, train and taxi providers.

It plans to pass some of the evidence to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which last month launched a new project to support disabled and older people who have faced discrimination on public and private transport.

The EHRC scheme will offer advice and help in resolving complaints, but it will also provide funding to take legal cases.

Now Fry Law is planning to collect evidence that it can pass to EHRC for possible legal cases by lending miniature cameras to disabled people in England and Wales who have been experiencing discrimination from transport providers.

The cameras have a remote control pad and can be fixed to wheelchairs, scooters and clothing to allow filmed evidence to be collected.

Chris Fry, founder of Fry Law, said he hoped this would help EHRC collate evidence and encourage disabled people to enforce their rights.

He said disability discrimination cases taken against public transport providers can be difficult to prove, while there is also the risk that claimants could have to pay some of the other side’s costs if they lose their case.

The EHRC project, he said, was a “once in a decade opportunity” that should mean that providers are “held to account in a way they currently are not”.

Fry Law has already given cameras to about half a dozen disabled people who frequently face discrimination when using public transport, and is now looking for other disabled people willing to test out one of the cameras*.

Fry said he hoped EHRC would also eventually show the filmed evidence of discrimination to MPs and ministers.

And he said he hoped the cameras would also provide evidence of “really good customer service” by train, taxi and bus providers that could again be passed to EHRC.

He said he hoped the project would help to address some of the everyday discrimination faced by disabled people who “are not getting to work on time, are missing hospital appointments, are missing benefit assessments, and are just having to put up with it because they don’t have the evidence”.

He said: “The commission’s transport project is a really positive step and we ought to be doing everything we can to provide as much evidence and get as many cases forward as we can to demonstrate that these failings are still systematic.

Filmed evidence seems the best way of doing it.”

*To express interest in the scheme, contact Fry Law

10 October 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 14:05
Oct 072019
 

[From Disability Arts Online]

Piss on Pity is the title of an exhibition of work by disabled artists on the subject of charity currently in the Ridings Centre, Wakefield. Gill Crawshaw writes about pulling the exhibition together as a way of channeling anger at the flagrant dismissal of the disability arts communities concerns about representation of our issues by Damien Hirst.

Sasha Callaghan’s digital collage ‘Blood Brothers’

Sasha Callaghan’s digital collage ‘Blood Brothers’

I’m writing this from the exhibition. I’ve been sitting in the unit in a Wakefield shopping centre where it’s on show, talking to people who pop in. I’ve had many interesting and moving conversations – that have had nothing to do with Damien Hirst!

More specifically, our conversations have had nothing to do with Hirst’s monumental bronze sculpture, Charity. You might be aware of this sculpture, a huge version of a “Help Spastics” collecting box from the 60s, in the shape of a disabled girl. If you’re a regular reader of Disability Arts Online, you’ll have likely read Colin Hambrook’s scathing takedown: “… yet another example of ‘disability’ being used and exploited by the rich and powerful as a commodity for trafficking ideas and power.” Or you might have signed the open letter from disabled activists to Hirst on Change.org, stating how offensive this work is and asking for an explanation (which was never given. Hirst didn’t seem to want to take part in the “conversations about disability” that his mates Scope hoped would result.)

Despite the outcry from disabled people that Hirst’s sculpture is hugely offensive, and has nothing to say about the reality of disabled people’s lives, Charity continues to be shown in galleries and at festivals. It landed at Yorkshire Sculpture Park this summer as part of a new, high-profile festival, Yorkshire Sculpture International (YSI).

When I found out, I felt more weary than angry. Here we go again, another thoughtless, exclusionary sculpture to complain about. Another instance of highly-paid artists ignoring the views and needs of disabled people. In recent months disabled people have protested against the inaccessibility of other contemporary artists’ work: Olaf Eliasson’s installation at Tate Modern and Jeremy Deller’s monument to Peterloo in Manchester.

Katherine Araniello and Simon Raven protest in front of ‘Charity’ in the City of London, selling Damien Hirst gherkins by The Gherkin

Katherine Araniello and Simon Raven protest in front of ‘Charity’ in the City of London, selling Damien Hirst gherkins by The Gherkin

 

However, artist Jason Wilsher-Mills convinced me that we couldn’t let the appearance of Charity in Yorkshire go unchallenged. I contacted YSI, perhaps they would be interested in working with us to hold a public debate; an opportunity for disabled people to explain why the sculpture is problematic, and to show disabled artists’ responses. Jason and I thought this would be a worthwhile and interesting way to explore some of the issues Charity raises, particularly around representation and artists’ responsibilities. YSI seemed keen and we set up a meeting.

The outcome of this meeting, however, wasn’t what Jason or I expected. YSI and the Sculpture Park focused on their aspiration to involve more disabled artists throughout the organisation. While we fully support this, somehow we’d lost touch with our original aim.

In the meeting, Jason explained that he’d decided to make sculptures in direct opposition to Hirst’s Charity, because this representation of disabled people and Hirst’s lazy appropriation of it had infuriated him. Jason also writes about this for Piss on Pity’s zine-catalogue available on ISSU.

This sculpture by Hirst had such an impact on me, as I felt it did not have an ‘authentic voice’. It was made by an artist, who seemingly had no experience of life as a disabled person. Disabled people were not consulted about the piece. It was made, because he could make it.

Jason’s had turned his anger into something positive, his sculptures are joyous, colourful celebrations of disabled people’s lives. Now we were feeling angry not just at Hirst, but also frustrated at a missed opportunity. I wanted to turn this anger into something positive, thus the idea for Piss on Pity came about.

With two months to go before YSI ended, pulling an exhibition together to coincide with this festival, with no funding or venue, was going to be a challenge. But I knew that plenty of excellent artwork existed. Disabled artists have engaged with the subject of charity for decades, and continue to do so, with anger, wit and humour.

Katherine Araniello sends up charity

Katherine Araniello sends up charity

As well as Jason Wilsher-Mills, another artist in particular inspired this exhibition. Katherine Araniello, in a blue plastic dress and blonde papier mâché wig, is instantly recognisable in her imitation of the same Spastics Society collecting box that Hirst copied. Her film Pity, where she performs in this guise, was my first choice for Piss on Pity. I was also delighted to include The Crippled Gherkin, a film of a performance by Araniello and Simon Raven. The pair attempted to sell pickled gherkins in front of Charity when it appeared in the City of London: “Made by Damien Hirst on his farm with the little spastics!”

Katherine Araniello passed away earlier this year. The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of her anarchic, irreverent, hilarious performances.

The Art House in Wakefield and the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA) were brilliant supporters. The exhibition wouldn’t have happened without them. NDACA generously lent several items, including David Hevey’s iconic portrait of Adam Reynolds, ‘Andicapped Adam says Thank You, another artwork on my wishlist.

I wanted to hold the exhibition in Wakefield, rather than Leeds where I live, because Yorkshire Sculpture Park lies on Wakefield’s outskirts. Thanks to The Art House, this was possible. They secured the venue and helped install the exhibition. We opened on the night of the September Art Walk in Wakefield, at the tail end of YSI.

Justice not Charity shroud by Vince Laws

Justice not Charity shroud by Vince Laws

In the days since then I’ve been having conversations with passing shoppers. Many of the people who have come for a look round are disabled people. “I’m disabled myself” is a typical introduction. They have seen the notice on the window announcing that this is an exhibition by disabled artists. Or they have been drawn in by Vince Laws’ shrouds, from his series DWP Deaths Make Me Sick. Disabled people are connecting with the bold slogans: “Rights Not Charity”, “Justice Not Charity” and “Respect Not Charity”. They identify with the rest of the messages on these shrouds, which pay tribute to people who have died, some through suicide, as a result of being declared fit for work and having their benefits stopped, under the Department for Work and Pensions’ brutal assessments.

Several visitors have told me how close they’ve come to suicide themselves, in the wake of unjust and harsh assessments.

People are also engaging with the viewpoints on charity that the art conveys. The exhibition challenges the widespread idea that charity is wholly a force for good. I wasn’t sure how contentious this might be, but people definitely relate. They have railed against “pity porn” and the way that charities portray disabled people as pathetic victims.  They have complained about public funding cuts that have forced them to seek support from local charities – who are often overwhelmed and unable to help. And they agree that the support that disabled people need should be a matter of “Rights Not Charity”.

These conversations couldn’t be further away from the rarefied art world that supports an artist like Hirst to make millions while offending and disrespecting disabled people. Any mention of Damien Hirst to visitors to Piss on Pity is generally met with a shrug of indifference. Because Hirst’s work is out of touch and irrelevant.

Piss on Pity features work by

  • Katherine Araniello and Simon Raven
  • Sasha Callaghan
  • Eddy Hardy and Geof Armstrong
  • David Hevey
  • Tony Heaton
  • Vince Laws
  • Jason Wilsher-Mills.
 Posted by at 13:21
Oct 032019
 

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

Tory conference: Disabled activists shame Tories on cost of ‘heartless’ austerity

Disabled activists have protested outside the Conservative conference in Manchester in a bid to shame party members into accepting that a decade of austerity cuts from Tory-led governments have caused poverty, despair and countless deaths.

Protesters spoke of how the cuts and reforms had led to the deaths of tens of thousands of disabled people, backed up by research by mainstream institutions like Oxford, Liverpool and Cambridge Universities.

Others pointed to three high-profile and evidenced UN reports that have shown the devastating impact on disabled people of a decade of austerity.

The Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) protest took place on Monday afternoon, just a few yards from the main entrance to the conference, in central Manchester.

Two activists even dressed up as “Torie Plague” and “Doris Death” to highlight the “debt, despair and death” that “heartless, soulless” Conservative-led governments have caused since 2010.

Some protesters, from Manchester, were also there to tell Tory party members that they were not welcome in their city.

And some said it was vital that those disabled people who were able to protest in person ensured that Tory party members were aware of the damage caused by their government’s policies.

Piers Wilkinson, disabled students officer for the National Union of Students, said: “It is important that those of us who can protest and are in a position of being able to protest and have our voices heard do it, particularly on behalf of people who cannot.”

Jo Taylor said of the government’s cuts and reforms to disabled people’s support: “We have to keep on protesting until they listen and understand. It is a horrendous situation.”

Rick Burgess, from Manchester DPAC and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said the Tories had to understand that they were not welcome in the city, after 10 years of denying disabled people’s rights, and policies that had led to the loss of countless lives.

He told Disability News Service (DNS) that he was at the protest because the Tories “keep coming back and they have not got the message that Manchester is not a city built on Conservative values. It is not somewhere they are popular.”

He said there had been 10 years of the denial of disabled people’s rights “with the consequent loss of many lives”.

He said the continued return to Manchester by the Conservative party amounted to “hostile trolling” of the city.

He added: “On a human level, they need to know that they are not welcome. They should be ashamed of what they do.”

He pointed to three UN reports that had condemned the impact of government policies on disabled people, in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

He said: “This isn’t just our opinion.

They are a disaster. There is something wrong with people who think this is OK.”

Another leading disabled campaigner, Doug Paulley, said that he had wanted to be at the protest because of the government’s “mass punishment of disabled people”.

He said: “We are an inconvenient expense at best, a complete side issue, and yet people are suffering and dying. It’s utterly disgusting. It cannot be allowed to go on.

I am lucky that I am relatively protected from it but so many people are not.”

Eleanor Lisney, one of the founders of Greenwich DPAC, said she was at the protest because she had no idea what was going to happen to the country now, “let alone to disabled people”.

She highlighted the “intersectionality” of the impact of austerity, which had affected not just groups like disabled people and women individually, but had hit disabled women, disabled people from BAME communities and disabled immigrants even harder.

She said: “The protest here is so we keep the focus on the disastrous impact on disabled people through all those years of austerity.”

Dominic Hutchins, from Manchester DPAC, who is also a parish councillor, said he was at the protest because of the treatment of disabled people by the Tory government, including through the introduction of universal credit and its reforms and management of the disability benefit assessment processes.

He said the mainstream media failed to report how many people had died after being unfairly assessed.

Hutchins is a qualified youth worker but is currently unemployed because the youth service is “on its knees” following years of austerity.

He said: “I am on jobseeker’s allowance and disability benefits and I have got a good degree.

The Tories don’t see the benefit of youth work but when young people are on the streets, they complain.”

Wilkinson said the protest was particularly important when Greater Manchester Police had admitted sharing information about disabled protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

He pointed to “hidden cuts” such as the introduction of personal independence payment (PIP), the cuts to disabled students’ allowance, the rollout of universal credit and the social care funding crisis.

And he highlighted the conclusions of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which found there had been “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights by the Tory-led DWP, and research which showed austerity had been to blame for more than 130,000 deaths since 2012.

Taylor said she was at the protest because she had been forced to wash at the local swimming pool after her housing association refused to provide the disabled facilities grant she needed to adapt her bathroom, while she had also been forced to buy her own stairlift.

She said she was “disgusted” with the government’s benefit reforms and cuts to support for disabled people, and she added: “There are people dying from sanctioning and having no money.”

Another disabled campaigner and DPAC member at the protest, Nigel Peirce, a former mental health nurse, said he wanted to raise concerns about the transition from disability living allowance to PIP, and the introduction of universal credit, which had caused people to suffer “economically, physically and emotionally”, while some had died.

He said: “I haven’t got a message for the Tories because I don’t think they will listen.

The point of being here is for other people to see us. We are in Manchester and they come by and see us. Not one Tory going in there is going to listen.”

One disabled activist told fellow protesters: “I have watched the social security system in my country turn into something I am thoroughly ashamed of.”

She said the work capability assessment “has got nothing to do with your ability to work” but was there “to frighten you and humiliate you and we are sick of it”, while she said DWP staff label her “a scrounger and a skiver”.

Another said: “We are here today to demand our basic human rights, the ability to live our lives as independently as possible, with dignity, humanity and a society that cares.

How dare you come to the north of England. Go back to where you belong!

You’re not wanted here, you’re not needed here, you’re not welcome here. Go home, go away, be gone.”

Gary Caine, a disabled activist from Manchester, told DNS: “There is that much tragedy going on with disabled people’s lives. People need to take a stand.

My life has got a damn sight worse under the Conservatives, compared with Labour.

I cannot believe my life has gone down the chute and got worse for no damn reason.”

Another disabled activist, Mero, said she had come to the protest from Birmingham, because of the “unfairness” of the government’s policies.

She said she had been told she would have to be reassessed for PIP when she had previously been told she would not need to be assessed again.

She said: “I just can’t stand these cuts any more.

Why have we got to keep fighting for our rights?”

3 October 2019

 

 

Labour’s pledge to scrap universal credit ‘is victory for years of activism’

Disabled activists have welcomed Labour’s promise to scrap universal credit (UC) if it wins power at the next general election as a victory for years of campaigning.

But they have warned the party that they still want to know how UC will be replaced before they give the plans their whole-hearted approval.

Labour’s announcement comes after years of campaigning by disabled activists, particularly Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), and organisations such as Black Triangle, Sisters of Frida and Inclusion London.

Countless individual disabled activists have also called repeatedly for Labour to change its previous policy that demanded the government “pause and fix” the system and commit instead to “stop and scrap” UC.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said this week, in an announcement originally planned for last week’s party conference, that a Labour government would “scrap” the “inhumane and cruel” UC and replace it with a social security system that focused on “alleviating and ending poverty, not driving people into it”.

Labour would also replace the Department for Work and Pensions with a Department for Social Security on “day one” of a new government, said Corbyn.

And it would introduce an “emergency” package of reforms – including scrapping the benefit cap and ending the five-week wait for a first UC payment by introducing an interim payment after two weeks – while it developed a replacement system.

Labour said it hoped to reduce the assessment period for UC to one week so claimants receive their first payment about 10 days after making their claim, but they say this may take time to introduce because of the complexity of the UC system.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “Universal credit is a cruel and inhumane system that has left many disabled people destitute, unable to heat and light their homes and going without food.”

After the Labour announcement, the new work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey told the Conservative party conference in Manchester that UC “provides a safeguard for the most vulnerable in our society” and that it “supports strivers who are not content living a life on welfare”.

She said that one of her priorities was “to continue to improve universal credit to ensure that people get the money they need in a timely manner, are helped into work, and onto an escalator up to better work”.

But those comments came as a fringe meeting heard from the head of a homeless charity – which provides services just a short walk from the party conference – that UC was causing early deaths, addiction, mental distress and suicides, with claimants “at the end of their tether” (see separate story).

De Cordova said Coffey’s defence of UC was “obscene” and added: “Her party has caused untold suffering for disabled people and so many others, but they continue to bury their heads in the sand.”

Disabled activists who were protesting outside the Tory party conference this week welcomed Labour’s decision to scrap UC, with some reservations.

Rick Burgess, from Manchester DPAC and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “It’s good that they are saying they are going to stop and scrap it, but they need to engage with us about the replacement.

That is what we need now, to be confident that we are going in the right direction. We wait to hear from them.”

He warned that Labour had apparently still not committed to scrap all benefit sanctions, but only the Tories’ “punitive sanctions regime”.

He said: “They can’t just talk to the usual suspects about what they are going to replace it with. They need to talk to disabled people and the grassroots organisations.

It was a system not designed by or for disabled people.”

He added: “I think a lot of people should be quite happy that their efforts have pushed the Labour party to that position.

Sometimes it feels like we are fighting against a brick wall but clearly that moved the Labour party.”

Burgess said DPAC had – from the beginning – examined universal credit and realised that it needed to be scrapped, persuading unions that were originally against scrapping UC but just calling for it to be fixed.

He said: “Everyone has come to our way of thinking. We were right, and the experience people had with UC – poverty, homelessness, starvation – has been exactly as we predicted.”

He also said he was concerned that a Labour government would just “rebadge” DWP as the Department for Social Security.

He said: “They also need to change the culture. Key personnel certainly need firing, and probably need prosecuting.”

Dennis Queen, another of the DPAC activists protesting against the Tory government outside the conference on Monday afternoon, welcomed Corbyn’s announcement, which she said was “really good news”.

But she warned: “I don’t think anyone is going to hand our rights to us on a plate. I will be interested to see the details of what they propose to implement instead.

We are going to have to fight for our rights whoever is in power.”

Piers Wilkinson, the disabled students officer for the National Union of Students, said Labour’s announcement was a “move in the right direction” and “feels long overdue”.

But he said he wished there had been more emphasis from Labour on the fact that UC had “effectively targeted” disabled people and women.

He also said he wanted to see what a replacement system would look like and added: “Any future social security system has to be designed by people who are using it: Nothing About Us Without Us.

If Labour are really serious about changing the current system to make it not punitive and exploitative and life-destroying then we need to design it and not people who have never used it.”

Paula Peters, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said there had been “tireless work” by many activists that persuaded Labour to change its position, with disabled campaigners often “being a lone voice in the room when everyone else’s view differed from yours”.

But she warned that Labour would still have to be elected, and then activists would “have to hold them to their word and make their policy pledges become reality”.

She added: “We have so much more to do. But never say campaigning never makes a difference. It does.

We can effect change. We can make a difference.”

3 October 2019

 

 

Months of PIP distress ‘hastened my brother’s death’

The brother of a disabled man who was denied disability benefits when he was dying has launched a petition calling on the government to scrap the outsourcing of all face-to-face assessments to private contractors.

James Oliver, from Hastings – the constituency of former work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd – spent the last few months of his life in despair over the refusal of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to grant him personal independence payment (PIP).

Shortly before he died in hospital, in April this year, he told his brother, Dave Smith: “I can’t believe it. I am dying, I am going to be dead, and I’m still not sick enough to get PIP.”

Oliver, who had chronic liver disease caused by alcohol dependency, as well as other health conditions including scoliosis, hypertension and depression, had twice tried to claim PIP, but both times was found ineligible.

In 2016, he is believed to have applied for PIP for the first time when his health worsened and left him barely able to walk.

He had a face-to-face assessment with a paramedic employed by Atos*, one of the two outsourcing companies paid hundreds of millions of pounds by DWP to carry out the tests on its behalf.

The assessor awarded him zero points for every area of the assessment, which meant DWP rejected his claim, a decision which is believed to have been confirmed at an internal review, through the mandatory reconsideration process.

Although Smith is not certain of the details, he believes his brother had a second Atos PIP assessment last year, and was again awarded zero points, even though his health had worsened.

The subsequent decision by DWP to deny him PIP again was upheld, following another mandatory reconsideration.

Now Smith is working through his brother’s paperwork line by line, highlighting the inaccuracies and what he believes are lies in the assessment reports, including comments about the way he walked and read, and his clothes and memory.

In reference to the 2016 report, he said of his brother: “His liver is failing, his other organs are giving up, he has scoliosis, he has a backside red raw from the incontinence, he has open sores all over his body, his stomach is permanently swollen and he holds it when trying to walk because of the pain, he has pain in his arms and legs, he is regularly coughing up blood and bleeding internally, he has piles and he has pain in both hands, he is wheezing and exhausted after a few steps and constantly needing an inhaler and he needs a stick or support of house furniture to walk.”

Despite this, the assessor awarded him zero points, which led to him being denied PIP and which Smith said amounted to “blatant disability discrimination”.

The tribunal appeal against the refusal to award him PIP was due to take place late last month but has been postponed, following a request by DWP.

His brother is certain that the months of anxiety, depression and distress caused by the refusal to award him PIP last year hastened his death.

He told Disability News Service (DNS): “He felt nobody would help him. Whereas before he had been sticking to his doctor’s orders and restricting his drinking, when he was told he was having to go to tribunal he just gave up.

All he kept on about was he wasn’t sick enough for PIP. He was a total physical mess.”

Smith said he has yet to hear from DWP, despite sending his details to the department six months ago.

The Hastings advice centre that dealt with Oliver’s claims is believed to have written to Rudd to complain about the way the case has been dealt with.

Like many other campaigners, Smith believes ministers and senior civil servants should be held accountable in the criminal courts for their failure to make the system safe for people in vulnerable situations.

Now he has launched a petition that he hopes will secure enough signatures – 100,000 – to ensure the issues are debated in parliament.

His petition calls for an end to the use of private contractors for DWP disability benefit assessments, both for PIP and for employment and support allowance (and its universal credit equivalent).

He says in the petition that the disability benefit assessment system is linked to many suicides and “accelerated deaths”, like his brother’s.

And he says he believes – in claims backed up by DNS’s own investigations – that there have been “multiple lies” in the written assessment reports completed by nurses, paramedics and occupational therapists working for Atos and Capita (the other PIP assessment contractor).

Smith has been in contact with Joy Dove, whose daughter Jodey Whiting took her own life in February 2017 after her out-of-work disability benefits were wrongly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

He praised Dove’s “continued bravery” for continuing to speak out about her daughter’s death.

He said: “For me she is an inspiration to keep fighting and highlighting the bullying, ineptitude, discrimination and lies coming out of the DWP and its assessment agencies.”

And just as in Whiting’s case, the family’s grief was worsened by receiving a letter about his claim, addressed to Oliver at his home address, even though DWP had been repeatedly notified of his death.

In his case, the letter came from the tribunal service.

Smith said: “If this was a company with this many deaths on its hands, it would be forced to cease trading and have a criminal inquiry.

All the promises of ‘it will never happen again’ by the DWP are a total waste of time because it is a department which doesn’t know how to behave in a humane way.

We could sit back, do nothing, and let the government treat us like a worthless waste of space when we get ill.

Or we can do something about it and let them know in no uncertain terms that under the Human Rights Act we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and that their bullying and victimization will not be tolerated.”

A DWP spokesperson declined to say if the department was happy with its decision-making in the case and whether it showed the system was not fit for purpose, and that DWP should stop outsourcing assessments.

But he said in a statement: “Our thoughts are with Mr Oliver’s family at this difficult time.

We are very sorry for the distress caused and are looking into this to prevent it happening again.

We want the assessment process to work well for everyone and have made significant improvements, including introducing ESA life-long awards and light-touch 10-year PIP reviews for those with the most serious, life-long conditions.

The number of complaints about PIP assessments represents one per cent of the total number of individuals assessed.

Decisions are based on all the information provided to us by applicants, as well as that from their GP or medical specialist.”

DNS revealed last month that disabled people were almost twice as likely to win their disability benefit appeal than they were 10 years ago, at the start of almost a decade of Conservative control of DWP.

The proportion of tribunal appeals that found in favour of disability living allowance (DLA) claimants was just 38 per cent in 2010-11, the first year of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

But the rate of tribunal success for claimants of PIP, which was introduced in 2013 to gradually replace DLA for working-age claimants, has risen from 26 per cent in 2013-14, to 50 per cent in 2014-15, to 61 per cent the following year, and then to 65 per cent in 2015-16 and 68 per cent in 2017-18.

The latest figures show that 73 per cent of PIP claimants in 2018-19 saw the decision originally made by DWP decision-makers revised in their favour at tribunal.

An Atos spokesperson said: “It is not possible for us to comment on individual cases however our thoughts are with Mr Oliver’s family at this time.

Our focus is to provide a professional and compassionate assessment service for everyone.”

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

3 October 2019

 

 

Tory conference: Universal credit damage ‘is throwback to Victorian era’

The boss of a homeless charity that provides services just a short walk from this week’s Tory party conference has told party members that universal credit is causing early deaths, addiction, mental distress and suicides, with claimants “at the end of their tether”.

Yvonne Hope, chief executive of the Manchester charity Barnabus, which works mostly with rough sleepers, said universal credit (UC) had caused poverty levels that were “a throwback to the Victorian era”.

UC was first introduced in Manchester in 2014 and Hope said the levels of sanctions and “destitution” seen in those early days were now over for most people.

But she added: “We continue to see a development in poverty which I think my whole team thinks is a throwback to the Victorian era where they have almost created ghettoes of people who are never going to be able to move on.”

And she told the fringe event – which was organised by The Trussell Trust and Lloyds Bank Foundation – that the “killer” for her clients was the five-week wait for a first payment after moving on to UC.

She said: “When you’re dealing with people who have nothing, who are already destitute… five weeks is the difference between being able to feed yourself, being able to remain housed, being able to pay the bus ticket.

It throws you on the resources of churches, charities, and other organisations.”

She said many people in Manchester and around the country were ending up on the street because of UC, while the slide into homelessness was “almost inevitable” if someone was already in housing arrears when moving onto UC.

She described what happened to a client called Darren, who came to Barnabus after he had been sleeping rough for a couple of nights following a relationship breakdown.

He had been experiencing anxiety and depression and self-medicating with alcohol, she said.

After he was moved on to UC, Darren was left with less than £200 a month to live on because of debt repayments, including repaying the loan he had been forced to take out from the Department for Work and Pensions as a result of the five-week wait, and because his rent was higher than his housing benefit.

The experience left him suicidal, she said, although Barnabus managed to intervene and “get his life back on track”.

Hope said: “He is only one person and his story is so common. We hear it every day.”

She said there was a need for more affordable housing; to persuade landlords to take on UC claimants who did not have steady jobs; and for more flexibility in the UC system.

She said UC rules were currently built around a “linear life” when in fact “nobody leads a linear life: relationships break up, you lose your job… life is messy and people have problems, not everybody can work, not everybody can stay in work.

We are going to see more addiction, more mental illness issues, more unemployment, earlier deaths because of bad health, and sadly I think we are seeing a rise in suicide rates because people have just had enough, they are at the end of their tether.”

One Conservative party member, Martin Boniface, a volunteer with Worcester foodbank, told Tory MP Nigel Mills, one of the fringe meeting’s panel and a member of the work and pensions select committee: “There are times when I am embarrassed to be a member of the Conservative party.

When I am challenged by fellow volunteers at Worcester foodbank who say how can you possibly be a Conservative bearing in mind what you do here, that makes me worry.”

He asked what could be done to make the Conservatives be seen again as a “caring and compassionate party”.

But Mills said it was “fair” of the government to ask people to go through a process to ensure they are entitled to receive support, and he added: “What we are trying to do through these systems is help people progress, improve their lives and their families’ lives.

We are not trying to punish them. This was a reform designed to make welfare pay, make it simpler for people… we need to smooth out the edges, clear out the things that just aren’t working.”

Emma Revie, chief executive of The Trussell Trust, which supports a nationwide network of about 1,200 foodbanks, said the charity’s concern at the moment with UC and the benefit system was that “instead of holding people up at a time of crisis, at a time of need, it’s actually helping to pull them further down into poverty and into destitution”.

She said that relationships were being “broken by the crushing pressure of not having enough money”.

She said: “Often it is a corrosive effect of poverty and destitution that we lose our relationships and we lose the family and friends that we used to be able to reply on.”

In the last five years, the trust has seen a 73 per cent increase in the number of people using its foodbanks.

She said that half of those who come to a foodbank are from a household containing a disabled person or someone with a long-term health condition, and so already have higher essential costs.

She said: “Our new benefit system is definitely, unquestionably, working for many people, but for a significant minority it is not working.

The problems they are experiencing with the five week-wait, government debt repayment, which leave them with not enough to cover essentials and low levels of payment, and much more, are causing people to have to come to a food bank to receive donated goods.

We need to start listening to the people who are telling us [universal credit] is not working.”

She added: “Our data shows us unquestionably that the longer an area has universal credit in rollout, experiencing that five-week wait, the higher the numbers of people who are having to come to foodbanks.”

Mills agreed that for some people the five-week wait “was just not working”.

And he said people moving onto UC from other benefits should be able to “seamlessly migrate so they don’t notice a change”.

He said: “There is no logical sense in putting people into debt at the start of a claim, when they have been in the system for a while before.”

Edward Davies, director of policy at The Centre for Social Justice, which designed UC in 2009 and is chaired by Iain Duncan Smith, the former work and pensions secretary who introduced UC in 2013, said problems with UC had to be tackled at the same time as issues like addiction, education failure and debt.

He said that one of the problems with UC was that the provision of universal support – which was supposed to be a key part of the system for those with complex needs – was “not doing two per cent of what it could do”.

Universal support is supposed to offer help with claiming and managing UC, and was originally offered through local authorities, but is now provided through Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland.

But Davies said: “When we met with some very senior cabinet members of the former [Tory] administration, they didn’t even know what it was.”

He said universal support needed to be higher up the agenda.

Revie agreed, and said that more than two-thirds of people using foodbanks who were claiming UC did not know about universal support.

Davies said the impact of family breakdown was also important, and he added: “We need to start talking about family a lot more… politicians hate talking about it.

Look at the current prime minister [Boris Johnson]. He’s not going to want to talk about this.”

3 October 2019

 

 

Tory conference: Solution to social care crisis ‘may finally be within reach’

A permanent solution to the social care funding crisis may finally be within reach, with growing calls for proposals that would include free social care, according to a former adviser to the Tory health and social care secretary.

Richard Sloggett, who was advising Matt Hancock on policy until as recently as August, was speaking at a fringe meeting at the Tory party conference in Manchester this week.

His comments, and the apparent mood of the packed meeting, suggest growing momentum behind a solution that offers free social care, funded by national taxation, even if it does not go as far as a legal right to independent living and the National Independent Living and Support Service proposed by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance and Disabled People Against Cuts.

The optimism of those at the meeting came despite the failure of ministers to say anything substantial about social care during the conference.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said yesterday (Wednesday) that the Conservatives would “solve the problem of social care and end the injustice that means people have to sell their home to pay for their old age”, but he offered no suggestion for how this would be done, and failed to mention the support needs of working-age disabled people.

Hancock, in his main speech to conference, said only that the government had delivered the “biggest increase in social care funding in a decade” this year, while saying nothing about his much-delayed green paper on adult social care.

And chancellor Sajid Javid said only that the latest round of spending decisions by the Treasury last month had included a “large down-payment on social care”.

Social care minister Caroline Dinenage was unable to attend the conference because of ministerial engagements in Westminster.

She told Disability News Service by email that she had intended to attend on Monday and Tuesday but had deliberately not confirmed any speaking engagements because “of the current uncertainly in Parliament”.

She had needed to be in Westminster to respond to debates, including one on social care funding on Tuesday.

She said: “I wouldn’t read anything into the absence of social care from conference speeches.

The prime minister, in his inaugural speech from the steps of Downing Street, said, ‘The government will set our plans to fix the crisis in social care once and for all.’

Our commitment to this is undiminished.”

In her speech on Tuesday, which mainly focused on older people, she offered no suggestion that the green paper was imminent, instead repeating the chancellor’s line that the funding announced in the latest spending round was “a down payment on much more fundamental reforms to social care that we need to introduce”.

Sloggett was speaking at a fringe meeting hosted by the centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange, which has publicly called for social care to be free at the point of use, just like the NHS, and was attended by about 150 people who appeared strongly in favour of such a solution.

He told the meeting he was “really optimistic” about the issue and said he believed that politicians were moving towards a “state-backed solution of some ilk”.

He pointed to two recent reports he believed were “very pertinent” – a report by the House of Lords economic affairs committee and the Policy Exchange report – which have both advocated (mostly) free social care.

He said the Lords report was “a massive, massive step forward” and that he was “more optimistic than I perhaps was”.

And he told the meeting later: “We have an unbelievable sense of momentum on this agenda to actually do something.”

Warwick Lightfoot, a former adviser to three Tory chancellors in the late 1980s and early 1990s, who led Policy Exchange’s research on social care funding, said providing free social care, paid for from national taxation, was a cost that was “possible to manage” and was the “logical way of resolving” the current “misalignment” between free NHS care and means-tested charging for social care.

3 October 2019

 

 

Disabled Rebels call for ‘new blood’ as they prepare for Extinction Rebellion

A group of “Disabled Rebels” who will take part in next week’s Extinction Rebellion protests in London are calling for other disabled people to join the action and take part in the worldwide attempts to highlight the impact of climate change.

Together with a group called Deaf Rebels, they hope to play a key part in the UK actions, which will include a “central focus” on Westminster and will last two weeks from Monday (7 October).

Bob Williams-Findlay, a leading figure in the Disabled Rebels group and a veteran of many non-violent direct action protests, has called for “new blood” to join the Extinction Rebellion (XR) Disabled Rebels and Deaf Rebels.

He hopes that as many as 100 or even 150 Deaf and disabled people will take part in non-violent direct action in London.

If that happens, the numbers taking part will be greater than those who took part in direct action in the campaign for accessible transport and in the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network in the 1980s and 1990s.

Williams-Findlay said the Deaf and disabled people involved were of a “very different” composition than those who take part in disability rights protests.

He said the driving force was “primarily around saving the planet”, although the climate change actions in April and the worldwide publicity around Greta Thunberg had “triggered an increasing interest from traditional disability activists”.

He and other Disabled Rebels have been working to ensure there will be accessible toilets across the London protest sites, to provide disability equality training for stewards, and to organise a Disability Hub where disabled activists can secure information, advice and support.

Williams-Findlay said: “The plan is for the Disability Hub to have a multi-purpose area where disabled people can gather, build a sense of community, and help take disability culture right into the heart of Extinction Rebellion.”

They and Deaf Rebels have also been working to ensure Deaf people and Extinction Rebellion’s legal team can use British Sign Language signs to communicate with each other if there is a threat of arrest.

Williams-Findlay said that Extinction Rebellion and Disabled Rebels were both “on a steep learning curve” but he said he saw a “willingness to learn, be reflective and make changes” which was “not common among most social movements or campaign groups”.

He added: “There is a genuine commitment to be as inclusive as possible.

However, as with any social movement, Extinction Rebellion is a product of a society that has kept disabled people excluded or marginalised, and as a result, there remains deeply ingrained forms of ignorance about disabled lives and how the inequality of power impacts.”

He said it had been a “hard slog” to ensure the essential access issues will be in place, and there were still “gaps”.

And he issued a call for allies who might not be willing to engage in non-violent direct action, but who could carry out “backroom activities” such as staffing the Disability Hub or playing other supporting roles.

He said: “We would welcome new blood within the Extinction Rebellion itself, but we recognise that isn’t possible for everyone, therefore we would welcome ‘eyes and ears’ willing to use various social media platforms to pass on information and counteract disinformation and possible news blackouts.”*

Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, said: “There is no point demanding rights if we don’t have a planet to exercise them on.

By raising the profile of disabled people within XR, we can send out a clarion call to other disabled people – this is our fight too.”

He said his past experiences of non-violent direct action had shown that it requires “serious commitment” and “accepting you are part of a team”.

He said: “You need to decide how far you are willing to challenge the law.

There’s always a risk of arrest, but we need to assess the implications of getting arrested and have plans to defuse the situation and move away.

Another lesson has to be that non-violent direct action can be effective in getting the message across. So, direct action isn’t a game, but it can be fun and feel uplifting.”

He added: “Our future, not just that of disabled people, but humanity as a whole, is at a crossroads with time running out.

Disabled people want a future. We understand that only a just and transformative society can be inclusive, and addressing sustainable environments has to be a vital part of the process.

“‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’ has to include taking steps to save our planet, helping to prevent disaster and protecting people from human suffering.”

He called on the government to “tell the truth” about climate change, “put its full weight behind ensuring everyone understands what’s at stake” and engage in dialogue.

Williams-Findlay warned that disabled people would be among the groups to pay “the highest price” if the Extinction Rebellion and other climate change campaigns failed.

He said: “In the global south we are already seeing ecological disasters where people are being displaced, crops failing and huge migrations taking place.

Under these conditions, children and older and disabled people are going to struggle to survive.

Without adequate infrastructures and facing hostile disabling environments, these conditions are going to be too much to deal with.

Disabled people are less adaptable than non-disabled people, and if you add to that existing discriminatory attitudes, what will be the consequences?

Disabled people will be seen as having less worth, so if resources are rationed, it is fairly obvious who will lose out.”

*XR Disabled Rebels can be contacted through their Facebook page, or by email at: xr.inclusion@protonmail.com

3 October 2019

 

 

Tory conference: Leading disabled Tory ‘wouldn’t give UN the time of day’

A leading disabled Tory has defended his government’s disability policies, dismissing three highly critical reports by the UN and concerns about the impact of Brexit on social care, rights and access to medication.

Barry Ginley, deputy chair of the Conservative Disability Group (CDG), said the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) and its special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights were “not seeing the true Britain” when they criticised the UK government for its policies on disability in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

And he insisted that he was not embarrassed when CRPD was so critical of the UK government two years ago, telling it to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.

Ginley, who is disability and access officer at London’s V&A museum, said: “I am not putting my head in the sand over that.

I know a hell of a lot of countries around the world I have visited that do little or nothing.

For us to be criticised by the UN for stuff that we have done, being proactive and so on, I just wouldn’t give them the time of day.”

He was speaking to Disability News Service (DNS) after a fringe meeting hosted CDG, an independent organisation of Conservative party members “who want to see a more inclusive society for disabled people”.

Ginley, who voted “leave” in the 2016 European Union referendum, said that he believed Brexit was being used as an “excuse” by its opponents.

He said: “It was raining, I got wet this morning coming to conference, some people say it’s down to Brexit, everything is down to Brexit, everything bad is down to Brexit and everything good is because we are in Europe.”

He compared “scare tactics” about the impact of Brexit on disabled people’s rights, access to personal assistants and medication to fears about the Y2K Millennium Bug in the lead-up to 1 January 2000 “when planes were going to fall out of the sky because computers weren’t going to work”.

He said: “I get told that if we come out of Europe, disabled people are going to suffer and they won’t be able to get out and about, da-de-da-de-da.

I think personally that’s rubbish.”

Asked about concerns raised by disabled campaigners such as the crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell about a possible shortage of personal assistants after Brexit, he said: “She obviously has her experiences… but we do have plenty of British people that are still unemployed so we shouldn’t say that everyone from eastern Europe should be a PA because they are not.

The government has said they have the right to stay in the UK after Brexit. That’s been mentioned at conference today.

I think there has been a lot put on Brexit, these scare tactics.”

He said he had not read the government’s progress report on disability, which was hidden away on the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) website last month, and not publicised by the minister for disabled people or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

He said: “I didn’t know the report had been published so I will go and seek it out. I would have hoped that they would have communicated it better.”

He said one of his previous roles had been as an ambassador for ODI on its Strengthening Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations project, which ended in 2015.

But told that organisations like Shaping Our Lives and the National Survivor User Network had raised repeated concerns at the number of user-led organisations that had been forced to close, he suggested that some of them “may have merged and become stronger that way”.

Although he was critical of the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment process, which he said was “a failure”, he insisted that this was due to the private sector organisations carrying out the assessments, rather than the ministers who were responsible for the system, or DWP decision-makers.

He said: “It’s not the ministers saying you have to go out to work if you are terminally-ill with cancer.

It is the individual who has made that assessment, not the minister. It’s the human factor.”

But he said he would not defend the government over links between the fitness for work test and disabled people who had taken their own lives.

He said: “I don’t defend it. I’m not going to defend it. One lost life is one too many.

Work should be done to ensure those kinds of benefits aren’t just whipped away from people that are vulnerable.”

Ginley said ministers should have acted to improve the work capability assessment, adding: “I am happy to say it is a failing and it is something that still definitely needs to improve.

And that’s a Conservative member saying that of a Conservative government.”

He was also concerned and critical of the five-week wait for universal credit and the “ridiculous” proportion of subsequent payments that must be paid back by those who take a DWP loan to tide them over while waiting for that first payment.

He said CDG tries to challenge the government “when we feel it is necessary and because disability comes before party”.

He said: “We challenge when we feel we need to. Some ministers are better than others. I am not going to name names, good or bad.”

The fringe meeting had discussed how to make the UK the world’s most accessible tourist destination.

Ginley said that the V&A and other UK museums were seen as leaders on access for disabled people.

He said: “We still have a lot to do in this country, but we are far better off than most countries.

That’s not just me saying that: it’s feedback I get from disabled people from anywhere from Taiwan to Argentina, where I was last month. British museums are seen as leaders.

We can be tough on ourselves and say what we are doing is rubbish: actually, it’s not.

I would challenge people to go to other parts of the world and see if you find that as accessible as what London might be.

Yes, we still have challenges, but we are much further down the road than many other countries around the world.”

Diane Lightfoot, chief executive of the Business Disability Forum, and a member of VisitEngland’s England’s Inclusive Tourism Action Group, said the ambition of the government and tourism industry’s Tourism Sector Deal was to make the UK “the most accessible tourist destination in Europe by 2025”.

A key measure of this was to increase the number of in-bound visits by disabled people by 33 per cent.

She said VisitEngland research valued the accessible tourism market – the amount spent by disabled people and their traveling companions on day trips and domestic and in-bound overnight trips – at about £12 billion a year, and more than £14 billion in Britain.

Peter Hand, CDG’s chair, defended the decision to choose accessible tourism as the subject of the fringe when there were so many crucial issues affecting disabled people.

He told DNS after the meeting: “There are lots of issues concerning disabled people. We as CDG focus on those throughout the year.

We are not saying it’s the only issue, far from it, but in the context of Brexit, we thought it was a valuable opportunity to help promote UK PLC, but there are many other important issues and we still think they should be discussed as well.”

3 October 2019

 

 

Train companies set to be forced to act on rail replacement access after legal advice

Train companies must ensure that nearly all their rail replacement vehicles are accessible to disabled people, or risk criminal prosecution, according to legal advice obtained by the rail regulator.

Train companies have reacted to the provisional legal advice by promising to comply with any new rules produced by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) as a result of the advice.

ORR was forced to seek the legal advice after a legal threat issued by accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley.

Paulley warned last year that he was considering taking legal action against a train company over the failure to ensure that its rail replacement vehicles were accessible, which he said “makes travel substantially more difficult for many disabled people”.

He believes that most of those vehicles should comply with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 (PSVAR).

But when he read new accessible transport guidance issued to the industry by ORR in July, he realised that it fell far short of such a requirement, stating only that companies should make “reasonable endeavours to secure accessible rail replacement services and taxis”.

Paulley contacted solicitors at Deighton Pierce Glynn (DPG), who sent a legal letter to the regulator, which promised to seek its own legal advice.

Now ORR has published that legal advice from a barrister (PDF).

It states that, with a few minor exceptions, all rail replacement vehicles must be accessible, and the train companies, and the bus or coach providers, are at risk of criminal prosecution if they are not.

Paulley, who has been campaigning on the issue for years, says this advice goes well beyond what he and his solicitor from DPG, Louise Whitfield, were asking for.

They originally asked for train operating companies (TOCs) to ensure that all their rail replacement vehicles were fully accessible if used as a result of disruptions that were planned and reasonably foreseeable.

But ORR’s provisional legal advice says that even vehicles used as a result of unplanned disruption to rail services must be accessible, with a few exceptions.

Paulley said he was “delighted” with the advice but doubted whether there would be enough accessible buses or coaches for rail companies to hire, which would still put them at risk of prosecution for running inaccessible vehicles.

He also pointed out that TOCs had been breaking the law for more than 20 years, apparently without ORR and TOCs realising they were doing so.

He said: “A difficult situation they find themselves in, but I have little sympathy. 

If TOCs had made any significant effort to improve the accessibility of vehicles over the last 20 years, they wouldn’t be in this situation.

Similarly, if they had complied with the law, which has been around for 20 years and had a staggered introduction to ease the transition.”

ORR has written this week to seek the views of the rail industry and other stakeholders on the provisional legal advice, before launching a new consultation on the issue later this month.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents the companies that run Britain’s railway, promised that every replacement vehicle would comply with ORR regulations, although these vehicles could be buses, minibuses or taxis.

It said the legal advice “fits within our plan to make the railway more accessible to more people and ensure compliant replacement vehicles are in place during improvement work”.

Dominic Lund-Conlon, RDG’s head of accessibility and inclusion, said: “We always want people to have smooth journeys and train companies work closely with other transport operators during planned improvement work to meet the needs of passengers. 

We will ensure that people with accessibility needs can continue their journey in a vehicle that complies with the latest regulations, which could be a coach, minibus or taxi, depending on availability and the number of other people travelling.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We will consider responding to the consultation once it is published as we don’t want to pre-empt our response.”

3 October 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 14:25
Sep 262019
 

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

Labour conference: Activists set for fight to persuade leadership on independent living

Disabled people have a fight ahead of them to convince Labour’s leadership to accept the need for a universal right to independent living, say activists, despite the annual conference voting overwhelmingly in favour of it becoming party policy.

Sunday’s vote passed a motion that calls for all social care to be provided free – just as healthcare is provided free through the NHS – through a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS), and for that to be funded by national progressive taxation.

It says the service would provide a new universal right to independent living that would be “enshrined in law”.

NILSS would be designed by service-users and carers in partnership with local authorities and the NHS, and it would be delivered “as far as possible” by service-users.

The motion originated with the disabled people’s movement and a document drawn up by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA).

And the party confirmed yesterday (Wednesday) that the vote at the conference in Brighton meant this was now party policy.

But despite the vote there is no guarantee that the policy will be included in the party’s general election manifesto, which will instead be drawn up through what is known as a “clause five process” (PDF, see page four).

Doubts about the party’s commitment to a legal right to independent living, as demanded by article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, appeared to be confirmed when the party announced hours after Sunday’s vote that a Labour government would introduce only free personal care, and only for older people.

This would mean free support for getting in and out of bed, dressing, eating and bathing – but not for wider support that would ensure independent living – and just for the over-65s, as part of Labour’s plans for a National Care Service in England.

The policy falls significantly short of the demands in Sunday’s motion.

Two weeks ago, ROFA warned that Labour was on a “collision course” with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the UN because of its failure to accept the need for a legal right to independent living.

This week’s events suggest ROFA was right to issue that warning, even though many Labour activists have attacked Disability News Service for reporting criticism of a party that is not yet in power.

Mark Harrison, a ROFA member who helped draw up the NILSS strategy, told a fringe meeting organised by DPAC in Brighton that there was “a real contradiction” between Labour’s announcement on personal care and the motion passed by party members.

He said disabled activists needed to “move the Labour party and the shadow cabinet away from that concept of social care for the elderly and employing care assistants in local authorities”, and towards the NILSS strategy, which was backed by the disabled people’s movement.

He said: “We are having discussions in the next week with the leadership in the Labour party on why we aren’t grateful for their announcement on social care, why we think it’s not a very good idea, and what we should replace it with.

Our challenge is to get the Labour leadership to adapt [NILSS] as a big manifesto commitment.

It is a big, bold vision. It has to be in the manifesto because partial commitments to funding personal care for older people is not going to hack it.”

Sean McGovern, co-chair of the TUC’s disabled workers’ committee, told the fringe meeting that he did not believe shadow chancellor John McDonnell – who announced the personal care policy to conference on Monday – was against their NILSS demands but was “being pulled from different directions”.

McDonnell has said he will meet with disabled people’s organisations – including DPAC and ROFA, and trade unions – to discuss the situation.

McGovern said: “I think we have got a fight ahead of us. I think it’s a fight we can win.”

He added: “I do think we need to get into the people who are in positions of power.

Hopefully sooner rather than later we can get a round table meeting with John McDonnell.”

He told the meeting that the social care system was “broken”.

McGovern, who works for Disability Advice Service Lambeth in its direct payments team, said: “The people I work with… they are disabled people like us, they are people who want to live independently but they are not allowed to live independently because they are getting care packages of seven hours a week.

You’ll get somebody who has quite complex independent living needs will be getting 45 minutes in the morning, half an hour lunchtime, half an hour in the evening and maybe 45 minutes at bedtime, whatever that means.”

Michelle Daley, chair of ROFA’s international committee, co-chair of Independent Living Alternatives and interim director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said it was vital that article 19 was implemented.

She said the current system was not about independent living and offering a “decent life” but instead was “about people just existing”.

On Sunday, Michelle Pointer, a disabled party member from Aylesbury CLP (constituency Labour party), warned the party conference – in proposing the successful social care motion on Sunday – that social care had been “decimated” in the last decade, and that disabled people were “not able to live the independent lives they deserve”.

She said the new service should be “similar but different to the NHS but of the same standing”, and that it needed to be “enshrined in law for there to be a universal right to an independent life”.

Punita Goodfellow, from Newcastle upon Tyne Central CLP, who seconded the motion, credited ROFA and DPAC with the idea.

She said the UN had been “damning” about the state of social care and “the indignity suffered by millions of people in this country”.

She said it was “one of the most pressing and urgent injustices suffered by invisible millions”.

McGovern, who two weeks ago proposed a similar motion at the Trades Union Congress – which was also successful – told conference that social care was in “absolute collapse”.

He said the NILSS idea had been proposed by the disabled people’s movement.

Speaking as a Unite delegate, he told the conference: “We are calling for disabled people to have a universal right to independent living and a service funded through a progressive general taxation system and free at the point of need.”

He added: “Independent living is not a treat. It is not a luxury resource given to disabled people.

Independent living gets disabled people to the start line of the race. Support the right of disabled people to enter the race of day-to-day living.”

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, told a Disability Labour fringe meeting later in the week that she had spoken to McDonnell and was told that he wants a meeting next week on the NILSS.

She said: “That is something Disability Labour have been campaigning on. It is something that really, really needs to happen. A national care service is not good enough.”

26 September 2019

 

 

Labour conference: Party leadership is oppressing disabled people, say activists

Senior Labour figures have been accused of discrimination and “oppression” of their own disabled members, after failing yet again to act on the barriers created by the party’s structures, policies and actions.

Some disabled party members are now set to protest outside the next meeting of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) over its failure to ensure equality for disabled people.

The Labour party has been repeatedly criticised by its disabled members for failing to provide them with the support they need.

Last year, a survey of disabled party activists revealed “very disturbing” levels of disability discrimination throughout the party, with three-quarters of those questioned believing there was disability discrimination at all levels of the party.

Earlier last year, members of the Disability Equality ACT Labour (DEAL) campaign said the party had repeatedly failed to comply with its duties under the Equality Act.

And at the party’s annual conference in Brighton in 2017, the party faced pressure to put an end to years of “blatant discrimination” against its own disabled members.

The latest criticism was delivered in front of a key ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Katy Clark, at a fringe meeting at this week’s annual conference organised by Disability Labour, which represents disabled party members.

Clark headed Labour’s controversial democracy review, which reported last year, although she said she had not been involved in its implementation.

She was at the fringe meeting to describe some of the measures recommended by the review to address barriers faced by disabled members, including equality training for all constituency and branch officers, an equality audit of party conferences, and more resources for equality training.

She told the meeting: “We need to hear the voice of disabled members within the Labour party.”

But disabled party members were scathing of the party’s efforts to address their long-standing concerns.

Richard Rieser, disability officer in Islington North, Corbyn’s constituency, and a prominent disabled campaigner and consultant on inclusive education and disability rights, said there had been no “clear steer” from the party’s national executive on implementing the democracy review.

He said: “I would suggest that Disability Labour organise some lobbies of disabled members of the next few NEC meetings until they take us seriously.”

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, told him: “Yes, that is something we will be doing and we look forward to you joining us.”

Clark said the next meeting of the NEC was on 23 November.

Rieser said: “In the world of work, all of these adjustments were made 20 years ago.

Here we have the Labour party, claiming to stand for equality, failing to make the adjustments that it needs to be making.

I am surprised that no member has yet taken the party to court because it is breaking the law all the time and it is just not acceptable.

The leadership have to understand that this is not a nice little charitable move they are making to us. We reject charity. We want equality.

And then they have the cheek to say the Labour party supports the social model of disability.

Perhaps they need equality training to understand what that means. Disability is an oppression and if you are part of the problem, you are an oppressor.

Unfortunately, most of the leadership of our party are oppressing disabled people and that is not acceptable and really needs to be tackled.

The first people who need to be trained is the NEC, the second is all of the MPs and all of the councillors, and the third is all of the branch officers.”

He added: “If this was the situation with BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic] members, there would be an outcry, quite rightly, but we go on tolerating it because we have tolerated it all of our lives, but we mustn’t tolerate it any more, it has to stop.

Our anger needs to be out there and it needs to be seen publicly.”

Cllr Michelle Sweeney, a disabled member of St Helens council and a former probation officer, said she had been left “absolutely appalled” by her experience of equality within the Labour party as a new councillor.

She said: “As a disabled woman, every day you face barriers. And when you come into a party and the barriers are even more challenging, you feel often that you’re fighting from within.

It is really, really frustrating, when I think of disabled people and what they have to struggle with; we will lose them because they will think, ‘what is the point if I don’t feel I have got access into these spaces?’”

She added: “I have been saddened by just how poor things are in this conference. The accessibility is just not great at all. It’s pretty frustrating to say the least.”

Clark said she had been told the next five Labour party annual conferences would be held in Liverpool, which was more accessible than Brighton although it “also has its problems”.

She said Brighton conferences always result in the party being “inundated with complaints about access issues”.

Christine Tongue, the disability officer for South Thanet constituency Labour party, said: “We can’t even get into buildings that are accessible.”

She said one disabled member fell from his wheelchair on the way out of a party meeting in South Thanet because “the ramp was rubbish”.

She added: “We don’t have funds to build accessible buildings and we don’t have access in the constituency.”

She said there was a need for funding to invest in ensuring the accessibility of buildings owned by the party.

She added: “If they can’t get into meetings, they are definitely not going to stand for council.”

The Labour party had failed to comment on the concerns raised by noon today (Thursday).

26 September 2019

 

 

Labour conference: De Cordova ‘facing oppression’ in parliament over support needs

A disabled shadow minister has accused the public body that provides MPs with financial support of “oppression” and “discrimination”, after it refused to meet some of the disability-related costs of doing her job in parliament.

Marsha de Cordova described the “worry, anxiety, stress and tears” caused by the actions of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) as she tries to perform her duties as a constituency MP and Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people.

De Cordova, who has a visual impairment, was speaking at a fringe event organised by Disabled People Against Cuts as part of The World Transformed, a four-day festival that ran alongside Labour’s annual conference in Brighton this week.

The meeting was called Piss on Pity: Disability Oppression, and De Cordova said of the title: “We do need to talk about this.”

She said she had decided to discard the speech she had been planning and talk instead about her recent experience of oppression in the House of Commons.

She said 2019 had been “a challenge” as a disabled MP, and she added: “As a disabled MP I should have the right support, and reasonable adjustments need to be made.”

She said that IPSA had failed to pay for the extra paper and ink costs she faces because she has to print out documents in large print, including the speeches she makes in the Commons.

She told activists she had had to “fight” with IPSA over the issue.

She said: “They did actually say, ‘yeah, we know you might have extra costs, but we are not going to meet those costs.’

That is blatant discrimination and they thought it was OK to treat somebody like that.”

But these are not the only extra costs IPSA has refused to meet.

After de Cordova was appointed as a shadow minister in October 2017, IPSA agreed to fund an extra staff member – after receiving a letter from the parliamentary occupational health service, which supported her request – to provide the support she knew she would need as a disabled person to do her job as both a constituency MP and a shadow minister.

But earlier this year, IPSA told her it had made “an error” and withdrew the funding for the staff member.

As a result of that decision, she has been forced to make the staff member redundant.

She said: “We talk about oppression and that is oppression.

We are in the process of trying to work out some solutions, but I should not have been oppressed and put through what they put me through.

They have caused me much worry, anxiety, stress, tears.”

She told the meeting: “Until society and the institutions are going to understand disability, we will not make any progress.”

IPSA refused to answer questions from Disability News Service about the case, because it said they related to de Cordova’s “personal data”.

Among the questions were how it responded to claims that it was guilty of oppression and discrimination, why it changed its mind about paying for a support worker, and whether it accepted that it had discriminated against de Cordova under the Equality Act.

It also refused to say what actions it would take to ensure it did not discriminate against other disabled MPs in the future, and what message its actions sent to other disabled people considering a career in politics.

In its statement, it claimed that it “works closely with MPs and their staff to ensure that funding is provided to support their parliamentary and constituency work, in line with the rules”.

And it claimed that it supports “comprehensive assessments of the specific needs of MPs and their staff, so that any reasonable adjustments, in line with Equality Act legislation, can be identified and quickly funded to help MPs in their jobs.

IPSA has an uncapped Disability Assistance Fund for costs and reasonable adjustments that are reasonably attributable to a disability of an MP, a member of their staff, a volunteer, a job applicant or constituent visiting the MP’s office or surgery. 

IPSA fully supports a diverse parliament. IPSA is committed to adhering to all equality legislation, and to supporting all MPs fairly.”

26 September 2019

 

 

Labour conference: Disabled journalist bids to break new ground in parliament

A disabled Reuters journalist and Labour activist hopes to become what he believes would be the first MP with such a significant level of impairment to be elected to the House of Commons.

Peter Apps, a global affairs commentator with Reuters news agency, is hoping to be selected in – traditionally – one of Labour’s safest seats at the next general election.

He was speaking to Disability News Service at this week’s Labour party conference in Brighton.

Apps is one of up to 18 candidates fighting to be selected as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Vauxhall, in south London, a seat being vacated by Kate Hoey at the next general election.

But if he is selected he would likely have to provide the funding himself for the support he would need while campaigning.

This is because of the government’s refusal to reinstate 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 for disabled people seeking election to parliament.

The EnAble fund, a partial and temporary replacement for AEOF, is only open to those seeking local elected office in England and is not open to would-be MPs.

Apps would be able to pay for his own support because of a legal settlement, but he knows that many others with his significant level of impairment would not be able to do that. It is one of the reasons he is determined to secure a seat in parliament.

Apps is a former war reporter, who became paralysed in 2006 after breaking his neck while covering the civil war in Sri Lanka when he was just 25.

He has regained limited movement in one arm but lacks movement in his hands.

He believes, if selected to fight a seat for Labour, that he would be the candidate with the most significant level of impairment to contest a parliamentary seat for a major political party.

After the accident in 2006, he initially secured a decent support package from Tower Hamlets council, allowing him to live independently.

But this was gradually eroded as a result of spending cuts and he was told by a social worker four years ago that if he had not been able to support himself financially through a significant personal injury settlement he secured from Reuters, he would likely have been placed in a nursing home.

He now funds most of his care package himself, although he does receive financial support through disability living allowance.

His target is to secure the nomination in Vauxhall, where he now lives, but if he is unsuccessful, he hopes to fight another seat, although it would be likely to cost a substantial amount as he would need to stay in a hotel with rooms for two support workers if he fought an election campaign outside London.

He said: “It is costing me a fortune to be down here [in Brighton] for a couple of days but because of the settlement I can do this. Most people can’t.”

He was previously working as a reporter, covering areas such as global defence and emerging markets – during the financial crash – but it was only when he became a columnist that he was able to pursue his wish to become an MP, because of the company’s need to steer clear of accusations of political bias by its reporters.

After serving as a reservist at university, he has now returned to the army, this time as a part-time specialist adviser on media skills and emerging forms of warfare, while also mentoring young soldiers.

He says that being asked to return as a reservist gave him the confidence to pursue his political ambitions.

He is inspired, he says, by Labour’s disabled former home secretary David Blunkett, and by former Labour minister David Lammy.

If I was elected, I would be representing largely non-disabled people, but I would like to be a good disabled MP, just as David Lammy is a black MP and an incredible role model.

He and David Blunkett would be two examples of political leaders who are not defined by their characteristics but the fact that they are there makes an enormous difference to a very large number of people.”

But he says the barriers he faces are different to those faced by Blunkett.

He said: “Blind people have been part of society, working, for centuries, but those as physically disabled as me often died, at least until the last 75 years.

That’s one reason I feel it is important that I do this. When I have thought of dropping out, I remember the reason I am doing it, which is that there is no-one looking like me who has really done this before in Britain.

It would be an enormous step forward for disabled people but it’s the constituency party’s selection process.

They don’t want the most disabled MP in history, they want the best person for Vauxhall, and they will make that judgement.”

26 September 2019

 

 

Labour conference: McDonnell says autistic activists must ‘eyeball’ shadow ministers

Labour’s shadow chancellor has told disabled party activists they need to “eyeball” senior figures in the party who have not done enough to take on board the policies outlined in their new neurodiversity manifesto.

John McDonnell was speaking to members of Neurodivergent Labour (NDL) at a fringe meeting held to launch the manifesto at the party’s annual conference in Brighton.

McDonnell, who has played a key role in enabling the launch of NDL and supporting the development of its manifesto, said there had not yet been much interest shown by Labour MPs and other frontbench shadow ministers.

He said: “Janine [Booth, convenor of NDL’s manifesto group] and others have been offering briefings to individual shadow frontbench teams, and there wasn’t an awful lot of take-up.”

He said this was because shadow ministers were under pressure and focused on their own briefs.

But he said: “What we have got to do now is make sure, in the run-up to the general election, whenever it comes, that we get reinserted into [Labour’s] national manifesto a recognition of neurodiversity and the challenges and opportunities of that.”

He said: “I think we should use the coming period as an opportunity to lock down commitments within the Labour party for change and then broaden the debate and campaign around it.”

He said he did not blame colleagues in the party for their lack of involvement, because of the pressures they faced.

But he said there was a need now for NDL to “face up and eyeball people” in the party and for the party to “get a move on”.

He added later: “I don’t think we have gone far enough or fast enough, so we have to really renew that and get on with it.”

Booth told the launch meeting: “We think if these policies are enacted as a whole by a Labour government it will radically improve the lives of autistic, dyspraxic, dyslexic and other neurodivergent people in this country.”

She said it was a “living document and the more we build Neurodivergent Labour and the more we bring in allies as well as neurodivergent people, the more we can build this manifesto as different policies develop in new areas as well”.

She introduced the manifesto’s five key principles: that it is based on the social model of disability; that it has a “neurodiversity” approach that accepts that there are “many different brain wirings, many different brain structures” and that “humanity as a species is naturally neurologically diverse”; and that it opposes austerity, including cuts to services such as support for neurodivergent students in mainstream education.

The fourth principle is that it is a “Labour” manifesto, based on Labour values of socialism, solidarity and democracy; and the fifth is that it is based on “nothing about us without us”, so “neurodivergent people ourselves can speak about what our experiences and needs are”.

Abi Moorcock, a member of the manifesto group, described seven key areas where neurodivergent people are facing hostility: securing a diagnosis; independent living, services and social security; education; barriers to work; prejudice and discrimination, including bullying and hate crime; problems with the justice system, including prisoners who should receive support rather than being in custody; and the failure of research into understanding and supporting neurodivergent people.

Emma Dalmayne, a member of the manifesto group and an activist who campaigns to raise concerns about “quack cures” for autism, said in response to a question from a Labour councillor that the proportion of the population diagnosed as neurodivergent has only been increasing because of “more awareness and better diagnostic tools and tool kits”.

She said: “We have always been here, but we were seen as the weird, the kooky, the eccentric, the loner, the oddball.”

Booth added: “There has always been a variety of brain wirings, but the things that have changed socially make those more of an issue.”

Among key polices in the manifesto are to scrap the work capability assessment; to ensure that local authorities carry out the requirements of the Autism Act through decision-making forums that include representatives of autistic people; and to provide the support necessary to enable independent living, including “the need to get more autistic people out of ATUs [assessment and treatment units]”.

The manifesto calls for neurodiversity training for all staff in public services; smaller class sizes, and education about neurodiversity in the school curriculum; and reversing the cuts to special educational needs funding.

It also calls for a new legal requirement on employers to make their workplaces “more equal and accessible and less hostile”; for legal changes to ensure anti-discrimination laws apply to volunteers as well employees; and for measures to ensure the built environment is less distressing.

Other manifesto measures include introducing new laws to ban quack cures, such as MMS (a type of bleach) which harm autistic and other neurodivergent people; to make neurodivergence a new protected characteristic under the Equality Act, with the same protections as disability; and to ensure that “non-harmful unusual behaviours” are not criminalised by the justice system.

McDonnell told the meeting that there was “a hell of a challenge in many fields”, but he added: “I actually think the scale of the challenge is a reflection of the scale of the need.”

He said the issues included in the neurodiversity manifesto should be raised with the party because it was “the right thing to do”.

But he also pointed out that “in pure electoral terms, the number of individuals and families who are dealing with issues of neurodiversity is enormous”, and so a commitment to those policies in Labour’s next general election manifesto would “shift a large number of votes”.

He said: “We need to reinvigorate our representations within the party [and] make sure we get a full recognition within the manifesto itself.

The resource demands are pretty enormous as well. We have to accept that [but] we might as well confront that early rather than later.

An amount of investment now does actually in the end, in crude terms, save money at a later date.

There have been too many cases we have dealt with where issues not tackled have resulted in family breakdown, and people being placed in institutions inappropriately, often very expensively as well.”

Neurodivergent Labour is now set to hold its first agm in London in late November.

Booth said after the meeting that McDonnell was trying to secure an invitation for NDL to discuss its manifesto with the party’s National Policy Forum, as the next stage of persuading Labour to adopt it as party policy.

26 September 2019

 

 

Labour conference: Ovation for Justice for Jodey mum

The mother of a disabled woman who took her own life after unfairly having her benefits stopped received a standing ovation at a packed fringe event at Labour’s annual conference, after she pledged to continue her fight for justice.

Joy Dove was speaking after a parliamentary petition in the name of her daughter – Jodey Whiting – secured more than 55,000 signatures by the time it closed this month.

The petition called for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and for evidence of misconduct by ministers and civil servants to be passed to the police for a possible criminal investigation.

Dove told the Real Britain fringe event, hosted by the Daily Mirror and the union Unite, how her daughter had taken her own life just 15 days after her benefits were wrongly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

DWP’s own Independent Case Examiner (ICE) later ruled that the department was guilty of five “significant” failings in handling her case, after finding that it repeatedly failed to follow its own safeguarding rules.

In an emotional speech, Dove also held up pictures of her daughter, and the grave where she is buried, as well as a copy of her daughter’s post-mortem report.

She said: “What mother needs to see her daughter’s post-mortem report?”

Dove, who had travelled to Brighton from her home in the north-east to speak at the event, told how two senior DWP officials met with her to apologise for the department’s mistakes after the ICE ruling.

She said: “They went in and they found five failings. One failing is human error, but five failings is just unbelievable. They don’t know what they are doing.”

And she described how other families who have suffered as a result of the government’s social security reforms had contacted her through her Facebook campaign page to share their stories.

Party members at the fringe meeting gave Dove a lengthy standing ovation after she told them: “We have got to stop this and get Justice for Jodey and change the system completely.”

Kevin Maguire, the Mirror’s associate editor, who chaired the event, told her: “We know, we could hear, that that was not easy but it’s important that people like you speak up for people like Jodey and others.

I just wish that David Cameron, when he says austerity didn’t go far enough, when he sits in his £25,000 shepherd’s hut, counting his £800,000 from his memoirs, could hear and understand what he’s doing because austerity has been evil and it has killed people.”

Labour MP Lisa Nandy told the event: “The story that Joy just told will stay with me for the rest of my life, and I hope it will stay with all of you, too.”

She added: “This was what they did to us in 2010. They deliberately picked on people that they thought were too ill, too powerless, too ground down by the system to fight back, so they picked on disabled people and they kicked them off PIP and they denied them the right to the benefits that they needed, thinking that these were the people that were least likely to be able to fight back.”

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “We have a responsibility to make sure that Jodey is not forgotten.”

The Mirror’s Ros Wynne-Jones, who writes its Real Britain column, said Dove had had to take on the government “almost single-handedly” to fight for justice for her daughter.

She said she reminded her of other heroic families who had fought for justice for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire and the Hillsborough disaster and other working-class families who had had to fight for “truth and justice” after avoidable tragedies under Tory governments.

She said that Jodey and Stephen Smith – who died in April, months after he was found fit for work by DWP despite weighing just six stone – were both victims of the austerity programme, a “hostile environment” that was created by Tory-led governments and which was “a political choice” and not a necessity.

She said: “What astounds me… is that families like Joy’s and communities like the ones I get to see up and down the country are still fighting back.”

The 55,000 signatures secured by the petition fell far short of the 100,000 needed to secure a debate in parliament.

After the fringe event, Dove told Disability News Service that she was still campaigning for ministers and civil servants to face criminal charges in court for the actions that led to Jodey’s death.

She said: “I am 65 years old. Would I think I would be travelling to Brighton to speak at a Labour party conference? No way. We will get justice.”

There has been disappointment and frustration among activists at the failure to secure 100,000 signatures for the petition, which would have triggered a parliamentary debate on the need for an inquiry.

Anita Bellows, a researcher for Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “It has been very upsetting to watch a petition, which should have very easily collected 100,000 signatures, achieve just over half this figure.

Of course, there are many petitions, but this one was special, in the sense it would have brought some kind of closure to the families of claimants, driven to kill themselves because they lost their benefits, but it would also have exposed the cruel regime under which benefit claimants, some of them disabled, but all facing very adverse circumstances, have to live.

It would have put the spotlight on the politicians overseeing this regime, and hopefully held them accountable for these avoidable deaths.

We have been let down by politicians, trade unions/trade unionists, and activists for whom the usefulness of disabled people is to serve their own agenda.”

26 September 2019

 

 

Labour conference: Baked Beans demonstrate variety… and impact of austerity

People with learning difficulties have ensured that Labour party members have heard their voices on the impact of austerity on their lives.

Many of those who spoke out at an event on the fringes of this week’s annual conference in Brighton were themselves Labour party members.

They were taking part in one of four events organised by Wimbledon Labour party, as part of an attempt – through its disability officer, Sue Hubbert – to ensure that the voices of people with learning difficulties were heard at this year’s conference.

The events were part of The World Transformed festival, which was taking place alongside the main conference.

One of the events saw actors from the Baked Bean Company, who all have learning difficulties, perform a play – We Want It All! – they wrote themselves about the impact of austerity on the lives of people with learning difficulties in south London.

They raised issues of cuts to benefits and to social care, closure of services, and the discrimination that people with learning difficulties face when trying to exercise their right to vote.

One said, during the play, that “it feels like the more independent I get, the more money they take from me”, and added: “The less I have, the less I am able to do, and the less independent I am able to be.”

After the play, a series of people with learning difficulties spoke from the stage and the audience about their own fights against discrimination and austerity.

Kevin Sutton, a Labour supporter from Brighton, spoke of the barriers he faced in his life, such as in accessing education and transport, and his fears about the impact of Brexit.

He said: “I would like to see more good equality in this country, to help those in need, the homeless, people on benefits, those of us with disabilities and to provide a fair living wage for all.”

Rohan Lowe, a founder member of the Being Heard in Government group run by Brighton SpeakOut, and another Labour party member, spoke of his group’s campaigning work against cuts to council services.

He also described how austerity cuts had affected his work colleagues, meaning they often no longer had time to support him in his role.

And he said the vital software he needs to do his job stopped working several months ago and had yet to be fixed.

He said: “I have spoken to my IT department, my manager and even my union. Still no-one has even looked at it, which makes things difficult and which means most times I feel under-valued.

I guess my point is that that working with people with learning difficulties might mean giving ongoing support.”

Ian, another SpeakOut member, compared the government’s austerity cuts to the game Jenga, because of how society can collapse when just one piece is taken away, such as cuts to day services, social care and employment.

He said: “The government need to hear what I have to say and get their act together by not cutting day services out, health out or any other brick. They need bricking themselves.”

Joe Jones, from Wimbledon, told the audience that he had been campaigning for the Labour party for the last 41 years, and still canvasses twice a week despite various health conditions.

He said: “I fully intend to continue canvassing until the day I die.”

Another audience member, Toby, said: “It’s very easy to put a label on something… it’s not so simple for people like us, but society likes to do that, they like to put labels on because it’s easier for them to comprehend but that can get in the way of realising all of the potential that all of these unique individuals have.”

He added: “I am autistic, and it’s a fricking gift.”

26 September 2019

 

 

Welsh government ignores social care funding crisis… in independent living action plan

The Welsh government has completely ignored the social care funding crisis in a new action plan aimed at ensuring disabled people’s right to independent living.

A public consultation process with disabled people and disability organisations led to “multiple calls” for increased social care funding.

But the final version of the Labour government’s framework and action plan on the right to independent living – which includes 55 actions – says nothing about the funding crisis or the need for more spending on adult social care.

This contrasts with its 2013 framework, which it replaces and which included lengthy sections on access to social care, direct payments and personalised support.

In discussing the engagement process, which took place in 2017, with further engagement late last year on a draft version of the framework, the document says: “We heard that cuts to social care provision have led to lower allocations for Direct Payments which means disabled adults and young people are becoming increasingly isolated and impact to their well-being compromised.”

It also admits that there were “multiple calls for increased funding for health and social care” during that process.

But despite those calls, not one of the 55 actions in the plan mentions social care funding, or the need to address the cuts.

Instead, the action plan details wider measures around independent living, including: barriers to employment; recruitment of disabled apprentices; a review of funding for housing adaptations; collecting evidence on disability poverty; and improving access to health services.

It also includes a planned review of the disabled students’ allowance system; a pledge to improve understanding of the social model of disability across the Welsh government; and action on access to public transport.

There is also a pledge to introduce a scheme in Wales to provide financial support for the extra costs of disabled people seeking election to local councils, to match schemes in Scotland and England.

Nathan Lee Davies, a leading disabled campaigner who has helped secure concessions from the Welsh government on the impact of the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), said the omission was “bemusing” and appeared to be a “major step backwards”.

A spokesperson for the Welsh government refused to comment on the failure to mention cuts to social care funding in the action plan.

But Jane Hutt, the Welsh government’s deputy minister and chief whip, who has responsibility for equality issues, said in announcing the new framework that “supporting people to live their lives in the way they choose is the right thing to do”.

She said the framework sets out how the government was fulfilling its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

But the failure of the action plan to suggest any measures to address the funding crisis and cuts to support suggests the Welsh government could be in breach of the convention’s article 19.

Article 19 says that governments signed up to the convention should take “effective and appropriate measures” to enable disabled people to live in the community with “full inclusion and participation”.

Despite this omission, the framework pledges to “work for continuous improvement in how Wales fulfils its obligations with regard to [UNCRPD] and the Rights of the Child”.

There is also no mention in the document of ILF, and the Welsh government’s decision to close its interim Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme, which it had been running as a stopgap with UK government transition funding since ILF closed in June 2015.

WILG closed on 31 March 2018, when the £27 million a year funding provided by the UK government to maintain support to former ILF recipients transferred to local authorities in Wales.

Because of the WILG closure, Welsh local authorities are now solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients.

More than 1,200 former ILF recipients will now have their needs met through council funding, while 50 of them have requested an independent assessment of their new support package, a process being funded by the Welsh government following a campaign led by Davies over concerns about post-WILG support.

A Welsh government spokesperson said: “The Welsh Independent Living Grant was introduced as an interim measure to support people who received payments from the UK government’s Independent Living Fund which closed in 2015.

Our new framework focusses on the future of independent living in Wales, and what Welsh government can do to support disabled people going forward.”

Davies said: “On the face of it the new framework that has been introduced by the Welsh government, following a lengthy consultation process, is as bemusing as it was when [the draft version] was originally launched last year.

It seems as if I wasted my breath at two consultation days as many of the failings of the framework that I highlighted have failed to be addressed in a [document] that does not seem to address the needs of disabled people with high support needs. 

Social care does not seem to be addressed at all. This is an absolutely bizarre situation when discussing a framework supposedly designed to promote independent living for disabled people.

Not one of the 55 actions in the action plan mentioned social care funding, which is extremely worrying.” 

He added: “After achieving success with the #SaveWILG Campaign – where former ILF recipients have been offered the opportunity of an independent assessment if they disagreed with the decision of the local authority, all funded by the Welsh government – it was hoped that this would signal a change in attitude going forward.

The dynamic brand of 21st century socialism introduced by first minister Mark Drakeford has delivered positive change that deserves to be recognised.”

But he said the new framework and action plan “seems like a major step backwards”.

He added: “It just seems that the socialist values that the Welsh government demonstrated with their reaction to the WILG campaign have not been utilised in the new framework.

It does not sit well with me to criticise this new [document], but the fact that it seems to blatantly flaunt the UNCRPD article 19 is a major cause for concern.

It would be very easy for me to ignore this as WILG recipients have now been protected, but as a disabled activist I remain vigilant to the needs of my disabled brothers and sisters across Wales.

All disabled people with high support needs should be able to access adequate social care and I will not rest until justice prevails for those in need.”

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales (DW), who led the national steering group on the framework, welcomed its publication, particularly “the renewed commitment to implementation of the [UNCRPD] and consideration of options to incorporate this and other UN treaties in Welsh law together with a stronger focus on the social model of disability and proposals to tackle the disability employment gap and support disabled people to take up positions in public life.”

But she added: “Some aspects of the action plan are stronger and more developed than others, often in those areas where disabled people have been closely involved in informing and influencing policy.

With regard to social care, there appear to be relatively few initiatives cited in the action plan compared with other policy areas.

Key issues raised during the consultation are omitted, including low take-up of direct payments, provision of advocacy services, WILG developments and the impact of austerity on social care as a whole.  

We understand that the action plan is a work in progress so DW will continue to press for these issues to be addressed, including through Welsh government’s Disability Equality Forum which plays a vital role in monitoring implementation of the framework.”

26 September 2019

 

 

Campaign calls for action on discrimination against disabled cyclists

A new user-led campaign is calling on the government to address the discrimination faced by disabled cyclists.

The charity Wheels for Wellbeing is calling for more understanding – among both authorities and the public – of the barriers disabled people encounter when using their cycles.

It says that many disabled cyclists use their vehicle as a mobility aid, but they are often penalised for doing so.

Research last year found that nearly half of disabled cyclists who use their vehicle as a mobility aid have been asked to dismount and walk or wheel their cycle, even when it might be impossible for them to do so.

Some have been threatened with fines or fixed penalty notices.

This often happens on footpaths and in “cyclists dismount” zones, but it can also take place in parks, shopping centres and at train stations.

The charity says this is because cycles are not legally recognised as mobility aids.

The new campaign – My Cycle, My Mobility Aid – is calling on the government to act.

It wants changes to The Use of Invalid Carriages on Highways Regulations 1988 to recognise the use of cycles as a mobility aid.

It also wants a change in the law to allow mobility scooters in cycle lanes, and the creation of Dutch-style “mobility lanes”, which would be open to bicycles, non-standard cycles and mobility scooters.

And it is suggesting a blue badge scheme for disabled cyclists, giving them certain rights and exemptions, as well as a badge that could be used to identify disabled people who use their cycle as a mobility aid.

The charity is also asking for revised guidance on pavement cycling – which currently suggests police officers should use their discretion when considering handing out fixed penalty notices for cycling on the pavement – that makes “explicit reference” to the needs of disabled cyclists.

One disabled cyclist, Phil, from Preston, said: “I use my bike as a sort of rolling walking stick when I walk and I can cycle very long distances without pain. I therefore class my bike as a mobility aid.

However, it is very difficult to have this recognised in certain situations – for example in parks or other large outdoor venues. All they see is a bike.

It would be so easy to modify a ‘no bikes’ rule to say ‘unless used as a mobility aid’.”

Another disabled cyclist said: “People tend to express the view that anyone fit enough to pedal a cycle cannot possibly be disabled.

Disabled people are often considered as only those who are wheelchair-users.

People are generally ignorant of the concept of a mobility aid – and the more so if it is a bike.”

Wheels for Wellbeing wants disabled cyclists to take part in a new social media campaign, using the hashtag #MyCycleMyMobilityAid, and send in their photographs and stories to raise the profile of the issue.

Isabelle Clement, director of Wheels for Wellbeing, said: “Our research continues to show that most disabled cyclists find cycling easier than walking, and use their cycle as a mobility aid.

However, we are still finding that many disabled cyclists are being penalised for this.

This is discriminatory and discourages disabled people from cycling, leading them to instead rely on mobility scooters or cars to get around – neither of which will help the government meet its aims on climate change or physical inactivity.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “While cycling provides the well-known benefits of being a cheaper and sustainable form of transport, bikes can be a lifeline for disabled people who use them as a mobility aid.

As part of our Inclusive Transport Strategy we will be exploring the feasibility of amending legislation to recognise the use of cycles as a mobility aid.

By doing so, we are making more locations that are accessible, and helping to increase the number of disabled people cycling.”

26 September 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 13:15
Sep 242019
 

Under The Knife is a 90-minute feature length documentary about the covert dismantling of the NHS that is going on right now. It shows how democracy has been subverted by politicians, and capitalism run amok.

There are 50 free entry screenings of the film all around the country during October, to find a free screening near you and reserve a seat follow this link

 Posted by at 14:22

New DPAC TShirt Design captures the spirit of Britain today

 News  Comments Off on New DPAC TShirt Design captures the spirit of Britain today
Sep 162019
 

We set out to mark this year’s Tory party conference with a special commemorative Tshirt design that’s in keeping with the feelings of many people up and down the country today.

After many hours of discussion and debate and many rejected ideas, we finally settled on this design which was then created as an image by the ever wonderful Brian Hilton.

These Tshirts are available to buy on our products page at £10 plus £3 p&p, sizes small, medium, large XL XXL XXXL

the Fuck Off Boris is the size of the front of the teeshirt with the O of Off being the DPAC logo. They're black and words are enclosed by red lines

 Posted by at 22:35
Sep 072019
 

[Text from Taxpayers Against Poverty with thanks]

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

1. GENERAL ELECTION MANIFESTOS MUST ADDRESS HOMELESSNESS AND HUNGER. 

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

Examples are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK land grabbed by the rich for private gain

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

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

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

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

Graph from IPPR

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is before 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. An inhuman treatment of powerless tenants. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taxpayers Against Poverty

A VOICE FOR THE COMPASSIONATE MAJORITY

No citizen without an affordable home and an

adequate income in work or unemployment.

Supported by TAP RESOURCES INDEX on our website 

 Posted by at 15:46
Sep 052019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

Rail regulator backs down on access to replacement buses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 September 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:04
Sep 052019
 

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

WE DEMAND BORIS JOHNSON’S RESIGNATION.

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by at 14:53
Sep 032019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need a general election now. 

[By Mark Dunk and Paula Peters]

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

 Posted by at 22:08
Sep 012019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are interested in taking part, please contact:

Robert Booth
Social affairs correspondent, The Guardian

rob.booth@theguardian.com

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

 


Template

SUBJECT ACCESS REQUEST

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

[NAME OF AUTHORITY]
[ADDRESS OF AUTHORITY]

Dear Sir/Madam,

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

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

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

Please supply the data relating to:

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

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

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

Yours faithfully,

[SIGNATURE]

 

 Posted by at 21:30
Sep 012019
 

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

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

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

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

Organised by Another Europe Is Possible

#StopTheCoup

 Posted by at 12:49
Aug 302019
 

#StopTheCoup! Join the nationwide wave of protests

We can’t let Boris Johnson shut down democracy.

28th August 2019


Contains the text - Defend Democrary, Resist the Parliament Shutdown

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

We we can’t just rely on the courts or parliamentary process to save the day. We all have a duty to stand up and be counted.

This Saturday, we’re organising a nationwide wave of protests. Join us and invite everyone you know. Let’s make it huge.

Aberdeen, 12 noon at the Castlegate. Event here.

Belfast, 10 am, City Hall. Event here.

Birmingham, 1 pm on Victoria Square by the Council House. Event here.

Bournemouth, 11 am, Bournemouth Square. Event here.

Bodmin, 11 am, Mount Folly Square. Event here.

Brighton, 12 noon, The Level BN1 4ZN. Event here.

Bristol, 12 noon, College Green. Event here.

Cambridge, 12 noon, outside The Guildhall, Market Square. Event here.

Clitheroe, 11am, Bull Ring, Clitheroe Market. Event here.

Dundee, 2 pm, City Square. Event here.

Edinburgh, 12 noon, Holyrood. Event here.

Exeter, 11 am, Bedford Square. Event here.

Glasgow, 2 pm, George Square. Event here.

Hull, 12 noon, Hull City Hall. Event here.

Leeds, 11 am, Henry Moor Institute, Cookridge St. Event here.

Liverpool, 12 noon, St George’s Hall. Event here.

London, 12 noon, Downing Street. Event here.

Leamington Spa, 12 noon in the Pump Room Gardens. Event here.

Manchester, 12 noon, Cathedral Gardens. Event here.

Newcastle, 12 noon, Grey’s Monument. Event here.

Nottingham,  11 am, Brian Clough Statue close to Old Market Square. Event here.

Northampton, 11 am, Cobbler’s statue, middle of Abington St. Event here.

Oxford, 11 am, Broad Street outside Balliol College. Event here.

Plymouth, 11am, Armada Dial. Event here.

Romsey, 10am, Palmerston Statue. Facebook event here.

Southampton, 12 noon, Guildhall Square. Event here.

Sheffield, 11 am, Town Hall. Event here.

Swansea, 12 noon, Big Screen at Castle Square. Event here.

Swindon, 11 am, 29 Wood St. Event here.

Tavistock, Friday (!) 12:30, Lockyer House, Paddons Row PL19 0HF. Event here.

Tonbridge and Malling, 11 am, The Big Bridge, High Street. Event here.

Windsor, 11 am, Windsor Bridge. Event here.

York, 11 am, St Helen’s Square. Event here.

International

Amsterdam, 2 pm, Dam Square. Event here.
Riga, 1 pm, British Embassy. Event here.

And see even more protests on this map:

 

 Posted by at 16:57
Aug 302019
 

DPAC is hosting some sessions at The World Transformed this year. If  you don’t already know what The World Transformed is, here is a description from their website

The World Transformed is about thinking big. It’s about imagining radical change and planning how to make it happen. And it’s about doing it together.

We’re a 4-day politics, arts and music festival running alongside the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, working to build left power both inside and outside of Parliament.

Since 2016 we’ve been mixing big names with the most inspiring grassroots voices from all over the world, tackling topics that others overlook. TWT is a space for everyone – from seasoned campaigners to people who are brand new to politics.

And you can read more about it on The World Transformed website

DPAC are hosting these sessions at TWT:

Support not sanctions: a radical new approach on social security

Date: Mon 23.09.19
Timings:5:30pm – 7pm

The social security system is in need of radical reform. We need support not sanctions. If you are a service user or just interested in social security then this is the session for you.

Find out more including how to sign up here http://theworldtransformed.org/festival/2019/programme/support-not-sanctions:-a-radical-new-approach-on-social-security

The future of social care and independent living

Date Tue 24.09.19
Timings 3pm – 4:30pm

This session will explore policy ideas for social care/independent living for the future. While the crisis in social care is well known, politicians are reluctant to put forward solutions. Speakers from the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, a national network of grassroots disabled people led organisations, will put forward their ideas for the bold new vision that is needed, before enabling participants to share their thoughts on what a different system could look like and how we can get there.

Find out more including how to sign up here http://theworldtransformed.org/festival/2019/programme/the-future-of-social-care-and-independent-living

Piss on Pity: Disability Oppression

Date Tue 24.09.19
Timings 1pm – 2:30pm

This session will explore the relationship between disabled people’s oppression and capitalism. Disability is a historical, socially-created category and yet according to dominant ideas within society, the inequalities experienced by disabled people are still often viewed as inevitable. A panel of disabled speakers involved in writing and thinking about disability politics will present their analysis before allowing for group discussions on why and how misconceptions about disability persist and what we can do to challenge them.

Find out more including how to sign up here http://theworldtransformed.org/festival/2019/programme/piss-on-pity:-disability-oppression

#MoreThanRamps: an introduction to accessible campaigning

Date Mon 23.09.19
Timings 1pm – 2:30pm

This training session is designed as an introduction to accessible campaigning. Delivered by Deaf and disabled campaigners with a range of access needs, it will provide an over-view of tips for good practice access and inclusion with a chance for participants to share experiences and ask questions in a comfortable space. The session will also look at the future of campaigning and ideas for how to build more diverse activism for a bigger, stronger movement.

Find out more including how to sign up here http://theworldtransformed.org/festival/2019/programme/morethanramps:-an-introduction-to-accessible-campaigning


In addition DPAC is not hosting this session but we are promoting it, and we would encourage disabled people with an interest in accessible transport to go along

Policy Lab: Transforming Transport

Date Mon 23.09.19
Timings 3pm – 4:30pm

How can transport become a universal basic service that all can access, a service that takes us beyond driving and flying, and a service which is so rooted in communities so that it can never be privatised? After a short introduction by Cat Hobbs, director of We Own It, which campaigns for public ownership of our public services, we will learn and discuss from lots of perspectives.

Come to this session to learn, listen, offer your ideas, and craft those ideas into policy proposals.

Find out more including how to sign up here https://master–theworldtransformed.netlify.com/festival/2019/programme/policy-lab:-transforming-transport

 

 Posted by at 16:43
Aug 282019
 

We have had a number of people contacting us recently saying that they have asked their doctor to write a letter stating that they need a home visit for a benefit assessment and the doctor has refused.

Others have told us that their GP has refused to issue them a Fit Note

We are very concerned about this, and we want to make representations to the Royal College of GP s and other medical professional bodies about it.

But to do that we need evidence of how widespread a problem this is for claimants. So we need your help. If a doctor has refused to write a letter for you, or refused to issue you a Fit Note, or has even complained about having to do it, could you please let us know by emailing mail@dpac.uk.net

 Posted by at 16:14

Protest against the suspension of Parliament – Updated

 News  Comments Off on Protest against the suspension of Parliament – Updated
Aug 282019
 

In today’s news we have seen that Boris Johnson is suspending Parliament in order to force through a No-Deal Brexit.

Whether you are Leaver or Remainer, the suspension of parliamentary democracy on order to force through measures that would likely be halted by Parliament is a serious challenge to the democratic processes of this country.

When governments start pushing aside the people’s elected representatives in order to force through unpopular measures, it could be the beginning of a slide towards fascism, and we believe that this threat transcends all other issues.

There are a number of protests being organised today, with possibly more to come.

The ones that we know about so fare are:

  • August 31st at 12 noon: Stop The Coup Protest, 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AT (See the Facebook Event Page)
  • September 3rd at 6pm: Protest being organised
  • October 12th from 1 pm: Protest in Parliament Square
  • October 19th March organised by People’s Vote

DPAC will be joining the protest in Parliament Square on October 12th from 1pm onwards. If you would like to join the DPAC Bloc for this protest, or want to contact us about joining us in the other protests email us on mail@dpac.uk.net.

You can keep up to date with other protest news on this or other issues on the DPAC blog

 Posted by at 16:12
Aug 262019
 

[Text from Disability Sheffield Blog]

One of the biggest controversies involving those applying for Personal Independence Payments is that there are often apparent discrepancies between what is actually said in the assessment interviews and what the assessor’s report later claims.

Not everyone is aware that you are allowed to record the interview either in audio cassette or CD format providing advance notice is given and two copies of the recording are made, one of which must be given to the assessor at the end of the interview. Moreover, the equipment must be supplied by the person being assessed and many people on benefits cannot afford to buy recording equipment and also the equipment must be able to produce two identical copies of the recording at the end of the consultation.

So the Sheffield branch of campaigning organisation Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) has launched a crowdfunding appeal to buy tape recorders and cassettes for people to use during their assessments.

A spokesperson for DPAC Sheffield, said: “Everyone who has contacted DPAC Sheffield about their PIP assessments has said they have received inaccurate accounts of the assessment. In addition 94% of responses to a recent survey we did said they would want their PIP assessments recording so we figured why not try and start up a small bank of equipment to loan?’

“Despite the DWP’s media spin we BELIEVE people’s first hand accounts of this, indeed some of us at DPAC Sheffield have experienced the same thing. We reject recent statements to the press that claim “very few people request recordings” as evidenced in our poll, as well as personal accounts, the truth is quite the opposite.

We’ve decided not to take the excuse of “there’s no equipment available” any longer and to instead aim to provide equipment to people for their assessments. We’re aware of the criteria for providing your own recording devices. They must be identical if using two devices, and tapes must be sealed. So anything said will be on the record.

In the appeal’s first 24 hours, almost twice the original £105 target was raised but it is hoped that even more will be forthcoming so that anyone in the area who wants to record their assessment can do.

To find out more about the appeal see the crowdfunding page

 Posted by at 12:26
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 212019
 

We’ve had the following request to ask for people to come forward for an important research project

I’m a visually impaired activist and I’m currently undertaking a research project into disabled women & disabled non-binary people’s experiences of non-consensual touching, harassment, hate crimes and sexual assaults.

We are inviting disabled women & non-binary people to share their experiences through our website, as there is currently insufficient research into this issue.

I’m collaborating with Dr Hannah Mason Bish, a criminologist. We want to collect as many stories as possible to help research and raise awareness of this issue. The contributions are anonymised and can be as long or short as contributors want.

We are aware this is also an issue experienced by men, but as disabled women are twice as likely to experience sexual assault and there is limited research into this issue, we want to start with women\’s experiences and then hopefully get additional funding for future projects.

If you have a contribution to make, please visit the website https://privateplacespublicspaces.blog/

And please  can share this post on your social media outlets in order that this important research call reaches a wider audience

 Posted by at 14:41
Aug 152019
 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a bribe to stay silent.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

Mystery over sharp drop in disabled people’s unemployment rate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

People are generally experiencing the same types of barriers.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

 

Tribunal decision ‘could deter companies from building more institutions’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 August 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 22:14
Aug 082019
 

 

Anger over Unum sponsorship of ‘Superhero’ triathlon event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 August 2019

 

 

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

By Fleur Perry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

8 August 2019

 

 

Record number of disabled people receive support from Access to Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes a massive, massive difference to me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 August 2019

 

 

Research DRILLs down into bullying and social exclusion of disabled pupils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

8 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last month, Disability News Service revealed that DWP had admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how universal credit would affect different groups of disabled people.

DWP has always admitted there would be winners and losers among disabled people as it gradually introduced its delayed and much-criticised new system, while it claims that any savings would be reinvested into supporting those it calls “the most severely disabled”.

But it has repeatedly refused to provide clear details of how UC is likely to affect different groups of disabled people, particularly those currently receiving the various disability-related premiums.

8 August 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 13:58
Aug 042019
 

Disabled people protest benefits cuts deaths in Cambridge

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

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

Protest outside the Job Centre - photo credit James Youd

Protest outside the Job Centre – photo credit James Youd

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we try to bring hope and solidarity to disabled people and other claimants who are stuck in the DWP’s interminable bureaucracy, we also remember those of us who could no longer fight this horrendous system. Our society needs to change – there must be no more deaths from the loss of benefits. Please join us to fight for our rights. You can find us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1465750740224453/

[Ends]

Information for editors

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

If you would like any further information please email us at CambsEssexDPAC@gmail.com The website for the DPAC national organisation is at https://dpac.uk.net/

 

 Posted by at 13:38
Aug 022019
 

Event details

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

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

open meeting with: Heidi Alexander, Deputy Mayor Transport

Tuesday 10 September 2019, 1 – 3pm

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

1 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 August 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We said that people’s packages may be cut. Some disabled people’s packages have been cut.

We said local authorities wouldn’t be able to cope with applying the principles of independent living to our lives, because all they would be worried about was very basic care needs, because their budgets have been cut. That’s happening. 

We’re in a crisis. That’s not our words, that’s the directors of social services saying it.

We knew local authorities wouldn’t be able to cope with the freedoms that ILF did give. Those freedoms are being threatened more and more. 

And we knew that ILF was working and those freedoms should have been given to more disabled people, not less.”

He added: “In the spending review, they must ensure that that money continues, but critically our rights to independent living must also be reconsidered, protected and actually furthered. 

My life is more than a one-hour call to make sure I am fed and watered.”

Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the government had been “shamed” into providing the transition grant through the efforts of disabled activists.

One example was DPAC launching a direct action protest in the lobby of the House of Commons, days before ILF was due to close, with activists nearly succeeding in breaking into the main Commons chamber during prime minister’s questions.

But she said the transition funding provided by the government, including the four-year extension agreed in 2016, was never ring-fenced.

Clifford said: “Even before the ILF closed some local authorities started making dramatic cuts.

It has been a complete postcode lottery from area to area.

If the grant is ending, it will be a terrible blow to former ILF recipients whose local authorities have been protecting their support packages.

We would be likely to see an even greater level of re-institutionalisation, neglect, denial of opportunity and dehumanisation of people with high support needs living in the community and a greater pressure to go into segregated institutions against their wishes.”

She called on disabled people and allies to support the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance’s Independent Living for the Future campaign, which calls for a new national independent living service that would eliminate the postcode lottery in support, and finally make the right to independent living a reality.

ILF was originally funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and when it closed on 30 June 2015 it was helping nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.

But ministers decided it should be scrapped, promising instead that nine months’ worth of non-ring-fenced funding would be transferred to councils in England and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, to cover the period until April 2016.

It then agreed to extend that funding to English councils for another four years.

There were separate arrangements in Scotland and Wales.

Scotland set up its own Scottish Independent Living Fund on 1 July 2015, after the closure of the UK-wide ILF.

In Wales, a temporary replacement for ILF, the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme, ran from July 2015 but was due to close this spring and be replaced by a system of council-funded support.

But the closure was paused, after campaigning by disabled activists and allies, to allow all WILG recipients to request an independent reassessment of their new council support packages, with the Welsh government promising to fund the reassessments and any extra support they might need as a result.

1 August 2019

 

 

Charities ignore Justice for Jodey evidence

A dozen disability charities have refused to back demands for an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the deaths of benefit claimants, despite being reminded of the years of evidence behind those calls.

The 12 charities refused earlier this month to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls for an inquiry**, and makes other demands aimed at securing justice for those who have died and securing improvements to DWP’s policies and procedures.

Last Friday (26 July), Disability News Service (DNS) and grassroots groups supporting the petition used social media to present evidence to the charities from the last decade that showed the links between DWP and the deaths of claimants, and proved the department’s institutional disablism, safety failings and other serious flaws.

The aim was to persuade just one of the charities to change its position and back the petition.

But the charities – Action on Hearing Loss, Epilepsy Action, Parkinson’s UK, Leonard Cheshire, Mencap, the MS Society, the National Autistic Society, Rethink, RNIB, Scope, Sense, Turning Point – failed to respond to the contact via social media or make any attempt to defend their position.

One manager from Mencap asked on Twitter who DNS had contacted at the charity about the petition, but then failed to follow up her query when DNS asked her to email for further information.

The only other contact from one of the charities this week came from Sense, which emailed a press release to DNS asking for coverage of a series of new fundraising shops.

The non-user-led charities’ refusal to support efforts by disabled people and allies to secure justice for those who have died, ensure DWP improves its record on safety, and enable a recognition that the department is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose angered many campaigners.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, which backs the petition, said: “The lack of response from charities speaks volumes about their priorities and continuing lack of commitment to the lives and safety of disabled people.

However, we’re sure their CEOs will sleep comfortably in their beds knowing that their own vastly inflated salaries are safe.” 

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “A so-called ‘charity’ that does not stand up and speak out forcefully for our citizens with the impairments they represent can only be described in one way: parasites.

They are taking pay cheques off the back of the suffering of those whom they were set up to defend.

We call upon all our people with relevant impairments whom these ‘charities’ pretend to fight for to mount letter writing, petitions and telephone campaigns demanding the resignations of these corporate parasites without delay.

They are the betrayers of disabled people. Enough is enough.”

Cllr Pam Thomas, a disabled city councillor in Liverpool and a former activist with the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN), said on Twitter: “There is a long history of charities not supporting disabled people’s activism.

Although they may be happy to take the credit and pretend it was all their doing when disabled people’s campaigns are successful.”

Another long-time disabled activist, artist Tony Heaton, said on Twitter: “The usual suspects… remember the fight for anti-discrimination legislation back in the 1980s…?”

He added: “Too scared to bite the hand that feeds them the crumbs…”

Some claimed the charities’ silence was due to a fear of losing government funding, or because of being “in the pockets of Government”, “feathering their own pockets”, or being “self serving businesses”.

Others suggested it was linked to lobbying laws introduced by the government.

One Twitter-user asked Scope: “I wrote and asked why aren’t you supporting this? You didn’t respond. I emailed, no response.

Could you respond here on Twitter please? It makes people like myself hesitant to approach you as a charity professing to support disability. Thanks.”

Four days later, Scope had failed to respond to his tweet.

One disabled campaigner said: “By not supporting the inquiry they are just saying their #DutyofCare to their #ServiceUsers is diminished due to gov influence. Hang your heads in shame!!”

Other Twitter users said the charities’ silence meant they were “complicit” in the hostile environment for disabled people created by the government.

Many Twitter users said they would no longer donate to the charities because of their failure to support the petition.

Jodey Whiting died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

The Independent Case Examiner concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case.

But her death was only the latest avoidable tragedy to be linked to DWP’s actions, with previous deaths stretching back nearly a decade.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

**Although not supporting the petition, Mencap has said it backs an “independent examination” of DWP policies and practices in relation to “vulnerable claimants”. Epilepsy Action supports an inquiry, but also does not back the petition

 

**Although not supporting the petition, Mencap has said it backs an “independent examination” of DWP policies and practices in relation to “vulnerable claimants”. Epilepsy Action supports an inquiry, but also does not back the petition

***The MS Society has asked DNS to make clear that it was not aware of the tweets sent out to the 12 charities on 26 July, due to an error by DNS.

It does not support the petition, and has made clear that the evidence shared by DNS on 26 July would not have persuaded it to change its mind if it had been aware of the tweets.

But the charity says that it does back much of the petition. It believes that DWP should urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority, and it supports the call for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of DWP, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to police. However, it says that any recognition that DWP is not fit for purpose and is institutionally disablist should be determined by the inquiry.

Through its MS: Enough campaign, it is calling on the government to make immediate changes to the social security system so disabled people ‘can rely on support when they need it, without unnecessary burden or constant fear of having it taken away’.

DNS has apologised to the MS Society for the error and is happy to put the record straight.

1 August 2019

 

 

Anger grows as police force edges towards releasing DWP ‘sharing agreement’

Disabled activists will meet this week to discuss how to respond to a police force that has admitted it has an agreement to share information with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about benefit claimants who take part in protests.

Concerns about links between DWP and police forces such as Greater Manchester Police (GMP) – and the impact on disabled people’s right to protest – first emerged last December after Disability News Service (DNS) reported that forces had been targeting disabled people taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

But the concerns have now spread beyond anti-fracking protests to other pieces of direct action and protests in which disabled people have taken part.

DNS has been trying for months to confirm that there is a written agreement in place that allows GMP to share information with DWP about protesters who may be claiming disability-related benefits.

Once the existence of that agreement is confirmed, campaigners are likely to ask whether DWP has similar “sharing agreements” with other police forces, and what information they allow officers to share with the department.

Manchester’s deputy mayor has this week asked Greater Manchester Police for information about the document, months after she was promised by senior police officers that no such agreement existed.

The force’s press office has also finally admitted that the document exists, blaming a “misunderstanding” for its previous denial that it had such an agreement with DWP.

Today (Thursday), the force’s information management department appeared to be in the final stages of preparing the document for its release to DNS.

Last week’s DNS story that the information management team had confirmed that the “sharing agreement” existed has sparked anger among disabled people and their allies.

Some described the force’s actions as “shameful”, “disgusting”, a “disgrace”, and “deeply disturbing” and “anti democratic”, while others suggested on Twitter that GMP was breaching disabled people’s human rights.

Rick Burgess, of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (MDPAC), told DNS that he and his colleagues were “shocked and dismayed” at the “attempt to intimidate us into not protesting”.

He said: “I know there are people who will not come to protests because of this, because of fear of being reported to DWP and then becoming penniless and homeless just for exercising our democratic right to protest. It’s despicable.”

MDPAC is meeting this week to discuss what action it will take.

GMP’s press office finally commented on the agreement last night – after refusing to do so last week – and appeared to accept that there was a sharing agreement.

A GMP spokesperson told DNS: “Can I clarify that we’ve solved the misunderstanding around the choice of words we’ve used about a ‘sharing agreement’?

I hope you understand that by this we mean the agreement to share information between agencies, which is what we did under [section 29] of the Data Protection Act, which allows agencies to share information for a policing purpose.”

But it has failed to explain why GMP previously denied the existence of any such sharing agreement.

The force press office itself said in February that there was no formal sharing agreement in place with DWP.

But an information compliance and records management officer with the force has told DNS that he has now obtained a copy of the information sharing agreement and is preparing it for release.

A previous GMP freedom of information response stated that any information shared with DWP was “done under data protection legislation, not as part of a formal agreement policy (ISA Information Sharing Agreement)”.

And senior police officers told Greater Manchester’s deputy mayor for policing, Baroness [Bev] Hughes, in February that there was “no formal ‘sharing agreement’ in place and that the police act on a case by case basis, sharing information in accordance with the Data Protection Act”.

The GMP press office had failed by noon today (Thursday) to explain how this could be described as “a misunderstanding around the choice of words” rather than a deliberate intention to mislead, but insisted that “we have not intentionally misled you”.

DNS contacted Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) this week to ask whether Baroness Hughes was concerned about the force’s admission when she was assured by senior officers in February that there was no sharing agreement with DWP.

A GMCA spokesperson said: “We are awaiting information on this from Greater Manchester Police.”

1 August 2019

 

 

Equality watchdog’s ‘head in sand’ failure to listen, after MPs call for ‘bolder’ action

The equality watchdog has been accused of a “head in the sand” failure to respond to significant criticisms by MPs about its failure to enforce anti-discrimination legislation.

In a new report, the Commons women and equalities committee calls on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to “overcome its timidity”, “refocus its work”, “be bolder” in using its powers, and increase its enforcement of the Equality Act.

But the commission has refused to respond to the criticisms in the report, and instead has issued a statement praising its own performance.

The report says repeated inquiries have found EHRC “failing to act in areas of significant inequality and unable to provide an adequate explanation of why it appears not to be able to fulfil the role of a robust enforcer of equality law”.

The committee asked a series of witnesses if they thought organisations and businesses worried about EHRC taking legal action against them. Not one of them thought they did.

The report says that the commission has never used some of its unique legal powers.

It says the commission has applied for injunctions to prevent unlawful discrimination on just seven occasions, none of which the committee could find information about on the EHRC website.

And there has been just one formal investigation since 2009-10 and no assessments of how organisations are complying with the public sector equality duty, which was brought in by the Equality Act 2010.

The report concludes: “The result of this is that the burden of enforcement has been borne by individuals, even where the EHRC has become involved.”

It warns that disabled people and other individuals are facing discrimination “because employers and service providers are not afraid to discriminate, knowing that they are unlikely to be held to account”.

And it calls on EHRC to “significantly increase the volume, transparency and publicity of its enforcement work by making much greater use of its unique enforcement powers, publicising that work and reducing its reliance on individual complainants”.

Although the committee acknowledged that the commission had had its budget cut by nearly £42 million since 2007, it said it was still repeatedly underspending on its budget, with a forecast underspend of £689,000 for 2018-19.

The committee also said it was “deeply concerned” by the way the commission had handled discrimination claims made by its own staff during its latest restructuring programme.

Despite the criticism and multiple recommendations relating to its work, EHRC refused to say if it welcomed the report, if it agreed with the committee’s conclusions, or if it would consider the recommendations for improvement.

Instead, it issued a statement describing itself as a “confident and robust defender of people’s rights”, although it failed in the statement to give any examples of how it had tackled disability discrimination.

A spokesperson said EHRC had doubled the number of legal cases it had taken in the last few years, and that it had “helped more individuals and started a number of high profile investigations”.

The only recommendations it welcomed were those where the committee had agreed with its own previous calls for action on access to justice and strengthening the public sector equality duty.

The spokesperson said the commission was “always looking to improve” and was already planning to “focus on larger, longer-term interventions to achieve greater impact and make more use of our unique powers to ensure justice for those whose rights are breached”.

The committee received written evidence from more than 200 individuals and organisations for its Enforcing the Equality Act report, including several disabled people’s organisations.

It also heard oral evidence from disabled campaigners Doug Paulley, Esther Leighton and Jeanine Blamires – who discussed the challenges they experienced when they took organisations to court for disability discrimination – and Mike Smith, a former EHRC disability commissioner.

The report concludes: “While individuals must still have the right to challenge discrimination in the courts, the system of enforcement should ensure that this is only rarely needed.

This requires a fundamental shift in the way that enforcement of the Equality Act is thought about and applied.”

Paulley welcomed the report and said he agreed with its conclusions on disability rights and the law, EHRC and enforcement of the Equality Act 2010.

But he said EHRC’s response to the report had avoided the significant criticisms of its work by the committee.

He said: “The EHRC’s ‘head in the sand’ avoidance of the significant reasoned and evidenced criticisms in the report is redolent of the very behaviour that is subject to the criticism: failure to engage with issues and concerns in a proactive way, and failure to embrace opportunities to better serve the disadvantaged people they purport to support.”

As well as criticism of EHRC’s work, the report also calls for regulators, ombudsmen and inspectorates to take more action to enforce the Equality Act.

And it calls on the government to make a “fundamental shift” in how it enforces the act, and act on its own legal obligation to “embed compliance and enforcement” into “its most significant strategies and action plans”.

The committee said it had seen “repeated examples” of government strategies that have failed to recognise discrimination “let alone contain actions to secure compliance with the Equality Act”.

The report says the government’s failure to do this in connection with its recent focus on improving the workplace “beggars belief”.

It adds: “This failure leaves the Government at serious risk of breaching the public sector equality duty in its most important strategies and means that individuals facing discrimination continue to bear the full burden of enforcement, even in policy areas that the Government has identified as of central importance to the country.”

Maria Miller, the Conservative chair of the committee, said: “Employers and service providers are not afraid to discriminate, knowing that they are unlikely to be held to account.

We need a critical mass of cases to build a culture where compliance with the Equality Act is the norm.

The EHRC must overcome its timidity. It has unique powers, limited resources and must use them for maximum impact.

It should make regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen not only key partners in creating a critical mass of enforcement action but also key targets for enforcement action when those same regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen fail to meet their own equality duties.”

1 August 2019

 

 

Ministers’ plans on ‘toxic’ impact of driver-only trains fall way short, says DPTAC

The Department for Transport (DfT) is falling “a very long way short” with its plans to ease the “toxic” impact on disabled people of running driver-only trains through unstaffed stations, according to the government’s own accessible transport advisers.

A letter from the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), obtained by the Association of British Commuters (ABC) through a freedom of information request, has revealed DPTAC’s deep concerns about how the government’s rail policies will affect disabled passengers.

DPTAC – most of whose members are disabled people – wrote to two transport ministers after reading a report by consultants Steer, and associated guidance produced by DfT, on how different methods of operating trains affect disabled people.

In the letter (PDF), sent on 9 April, DPTAC chair Keith Richards expresses repeated concerns about the Steer research, and warns that its conclusions should be used only “with extreme caution”.

It warns that the “mitigation” suggested by DfT – based on the research – for situations where there are no rail staff available to assist disabled passengers is “wholly inadequate”.

And the letter reminds the two ministers – Nusrat Ghani and Andrew Jones – of DPTAC’s “frequently-stated concern over staffing levels and, in particular, the potentially toxic combination of driver-only operated [DOO] trains and unstaffed stations”.

The DPTAC letter says the mitigations suggested in DfT’s guidance fall “a very long way short” of the objective of allowing “disabled people to use the rail network on a non-discriminatory basis”.

But the letter does say that the Steer report shows there are “only very limited opportunities” to provide such mitigation if staff are not available either on board the train or at stations to assist disabled passengers.

DPTAC says that the “availability of staff to provide assistance is crucial to the ability of many disabled passengers (and indeed older passengers more generally) to make rail journeys”.

It also warns DfT that it should take legal advice on whether forcing disabled passengers to travel on DOO trains to unstaffed stations would breach the Equality Act and other laws and regulations.

And it calls for a “fundamental review” by DfT to ensure that disabled passengers “are able to use the rail network on a non discriminatory basis”.

Almost 12 months ago, ABC published letters, minutes of meetings and responses to public consultations – again obtained through the Freedom of Information Act – which showed the government had repeatedly ignored warnings from DPTAC about the “toxic combination” of running trains through unstaffed stations without a member of customer service staff on board.

Ann Bates, a leading transport access consultant and former rail chair of DPTAC, told Disability News Service: “I was delighted that DPTAC seem so alert to the dangers reducing staff would have to the frequently and rightly stated aim that disabled passengers should have an equal right to travel as other passengers.

DPTAC’s letter to the ministers dated 9 April 2019 is entirely correct in stating that, especially in the toxic situation of DOO trains travelling to staffless stations, there would appear to be no easily implemented mitigation available.

This confirms work that ABC and others have been researching for years in that running trains with well trained staff would be the most pragmatic and reliable way of ensuring access for the full range of passengers with both visible and invisible disabilities.”

ABC’s Emily Yates said: “After three years of rail strikes we’ve had enough of the government’s charade.

Train operating companies must guarantee the second safety critical member of staff on trains and the Department for Transport must provide the full details of their secret policy [to allow more DOO trains].

If they fail to do this, both will be complicit in breaching the Equality Act and excluding disabled people from the right to spontaneous travel.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT rail union, said: “RMT has fought the government and the train operating companies tooth and nail to defend a second safety critical member of staff on our trains and we’ve stepped up the campaign to put more staff back in our stations.

The new rail minister must publish this report, put an end to this disgraceful exercise and put staff back at the heart of a fully accessible railway.”

A DfT spokesperson had refused by noon today (Thursday) to say if the department accepted and understood the concerns about the combination of DOO and unstaffed stations raised by DPTAC, and if it accepted DPTAC’s recommendations to take legal advice on potential breaches of the Equality Act and to carry out a review.

But he said in a statement: “Disabled passengers should have the same opportunities to travel as everyone else, which is why we expect all train operators to have clear plans in place for how they will help passengers who need it.

We continue to work with DPTAC on this issue and will look to publish the [Steer] report in due course.”

Meanwhile, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has published new guidance for the rail industry aimed at improving access to Britain’s railway for older and disabled people.

The new guidance, which follows two public consultations, tells train and station operators what they “must” include in their own Accessible Travel Policies – which are replacing Disabled Persons’ Protection Policies – as well as setting out recommended good practice that those policies “may” also feature.

ORR says operators must set out in their Accessible Travel Policies how they will ensure they spend enough on assisting disabled passengers through the Passenger Assist service.

And it describes how the notice that disabled passengers must give to book assistance in advance must gradually be cut until the minimum is just two hours from 1 April 2022.

ORR says train operators must set out a policy on carrying mobility scooters and “make the reasoning behind their policy clear”, while any policy that excludes some or all scooters or mobility aids “must only be as a result of an evidenced safety or physical restriction”.

And it says train and station operators “must operate a regular forum of disabled passengers, to include users of assisted travel, with whom they consult on accessibility issues”.

They must also ensure that the information on step-free access, assisted travel and the availability of staff help that is included on the station pages of the National Rail Enquiries website is “up to date and accurate”.

The new guidance should make it easier for disabled passengers to receive compensation if the assistance they book in advance fails to be provided, and it should also lead to improved staff training.

Some of the guidance featured in recommendations made by ORR to the Williams Rail Review earlier this month.

1 August 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:21