Bob

Dec 132018
 

Kicked, punched, knocked unconscious, tipped out of wheelchairs’: Campaigners describe repeated police targeting of disabled anti-fracking protesters

Police forces are repeatedly targeting and assaulting disabled people involved in peaceful anti-fracking protests, campaigners have told Disability News Service (DNS).

DNS has seen video footage of a string of incidents in which disabled campaigners taking part in peaceful protests have been injured, manhandled or put at risk of injury by police officers.

It has also spoken to three disabled protesters, and two other eye-witnesses, who have all experienced or witnessed serious and repeated incidents of police brutality targeted at disabled people.

There are now fears that forces across the country that have policed anti-fracking protests are developing a tactics “template” that can be used to target disabled people taking part in other peaceful protests, such as those organised by the anti-cuts and climate change movements.

Some of the most recent and serious concerns relate to the actions of officers from Lancashire police in dealing with peaceful protests about the drilling activities of the energy company Cuadrilla near Preston New Road (PNR), on the edge of Blackpool.

Maria Allen, who is deaf and has arthritis, has been involved in the Preston New Road protest since it began in January 2017, and in the wider anti-fracking movement for four years.

She lives about 20 miles from the fracking site, in an area that is also licensed for fracking, and has family in Blackpool, while a cousin lives less than a mile from the site.

She told DNS: “I have been targeted by the police on so many occasions I have lost count.

I have been shoved over, kicked, punched, pressure pointed [putting pressure on sensitive points in the body to cause pain].”

On one occasion she was picked up and thrown into a fence, she said. Another time she was knocked unconscious.

She said: “The favourite trick of some of the officers there is to sneak up behind me and grab or shove me without warning.

Or they will issue instructions when they are stood behind me and they know I don’t know what they are saying [because she lip-reads], and then grab or shove me, using the excuse that I did not comply with their request to move.

I have also been told by several officers that I am lying when I tell them that I am deaf.”

She described the police behaviour she had witnessed as “intimidating, aggressive, confrontational, violent, abusive, disproportionate, frightening”.

Allen said: “On numerous occasions I have also seen the police goading and harassing autistic protesters, following them, grabbing them and holding them, calling them names.

Most of us have also been subjected to targeted arrests where we have been arrested on spurious grounds and been held for several hours in police cells. We have then been released without charge.

The police do not only target disabled protesters at PNR; they target anyone they perceive as vulnerable.

They also target our young people and women, particularly elderly women. They have even assaulted and deliberately frightened teenage children.”

She believes this targeting of disabled people and other protesters the police see as vulnerable is a deliberate policy, intended to “intimidate people and make them scared to protest”.

Allen, a single mother of four disabled sons, said: “After they have assaulted me it takes me a few days to get the courage up to go back.

I believe they also do it to try to provoke a violent response from some of the non-disabled protesters.

At PNR we are primarily a bunch of ordinary, local people. Our whole ethos is non-violent. We never fight back.

Many of us are disabled or vulnerable and the police treat us as if we were football hooligans about to riot.

Until I went to PNR I had always respected the police. The policing at PNR has destroyed any trust I had in our police force, and sadly it has made my children feel the same way, because they have seen the horrific bruising the police have left me with.”

Another disabled protester, Nick Sheldrick, who lives three miles from the fracking site and has a spinal cord injury, is also convinced that he has been targeted by police officers.

Since he began attending protests at PNR last year he has been tipped out of his wheelchair six times. He believes only one of these incidents was accidental.

The other five times he has been deliberately pushed in his chest, he said.

Sheldrick said: “I have told them that if they do that then I am going to go over in my chair.

I have told the senior officers if they need me to go anywhere just ask me and I’ll move. They don’t need to pull me and touch me and drag me. But they do.

They don’t give you time to move at all. As they are saying ‘move’ they are [already] pushing you.”

On one recent occasion he was shoved in the chest by one officer – after being dragged across the road by his shoulders by another officer – and fell backwards and hit his head on the pavement.

Because of the treatment he has received, he will no longer attend the protest site alone.

On another occasion last year, one officer left him with a bruise covering his thigh after trying to pin him down by putting a knee across his leg.

He said this was “the first indication that the police weren’t there for my protection.

I’ve always had a really big respect for the police, I was a merchant navy officer, I’ve never been in trouble in my life.

I’ve always thought the police were there to help and protect us, but that’s not what I’ve witnessed down there.”

He has also had one officer tell him he should go for a run and then laugh in his face. He lodged a complaint but it was unsuccessful after the officer claimed he had been directing his comment to a nearby group of protesters and not to Sheldrick.

Other complaints he has made to the force have all been rejected.

In one piece of film shot by a protester, reported by the Mirror and other publications last year, Sheldrick is seen apparently being pulled to the floor in his wheelchair by police officers as he attempts to block a delivery lorry.

One of the officers told him to stop being stupid and stand up, he said. “I was trying to explain to them I’ve got a spinal cord injury and my legs don’t work. They just wouldn’t listen.”

The publicity around that incident has not stopped officers targeting him.

He described the police tactics as “quite brutal” and says that watching officers grab protesters and push them into the hedge is “quite nasty, and sad to watch as well”.

He said he has also seen many incidents in which officers have grabbed young women and pulled their tops up to expose their breasts, which he said “looked deliberate”.

He said: “I think there are a lot of tactics going on to stop people going to the protests, to scare people away.”

And Sheldrick said he had seen similar tactics being used by police forces on other protests, as he has watched them live online.

One of the disabled people mentioned most often by protesters when asked about police targeting is Liz Beck, from nearby Manchester.

She told DNS that she had been thrown or fallen to the ground at least 30 times at Preston New Road, although she also broke her collarbone after an incident at the Horse Hill fracking site in Surrey, footage of which DNS has watched.

On every one of these occasions, Beck was carrying her walking-stick.

In one piece of footage shot by a protester at Preston New Road and also seen by DNS, Beck can be seen being pushed by a police officer and falling to the ground. The officer then picks her up and drags her across the floor.

On her return to Preston New Road after the Horse Hill incident, her arm was in a sling, but that was no protection.

They would target it,” she said. “They would deliberately grab it and pull me by that arm.”

She added: “I have been pushed to the ground, I have been rugby tackled, I have been thrown to the ground, I have been slung round, thrown to the ground and [had an officer’s] knee in my back.”

Sometimes she falls because she has been pushed or shoved by police officers; on other occasions she has lost her balance while in a crowd being manoeuvred by officers.

She has also been pushed into hedges at the side of the road, and on one occasion was pushed from the road and then pushed again so she rolled down to the bottom of a steep bank.

She said: “They will either grab you or pinch you or pull you round. I’m unstable, so I go over.

They seem to go for the weaker ones so other people will start getting angry, because everybody is peacefully protesting.

They want people to be violent because then they know what to do, so when it’s peaceful they will make it violent.

They want us to go away quietly, but we have done nothing wrong apart from protest.

A lot of people were scared to come up because of the police… because of the way police are, but it just makes you more angry. It’s denying people’s right to peacefully protest.”

Miranda Cox is a member of the town council for Kirkham, a couple of miles from the Preston New Road fracking site.

She needed an operation after tearing cartilage in her knee at the beginning of last year after police contained a group of protesters and then pushed against them.

This year, she received a substantial cut to her arm after she was “lifted up and thrown” onto the road by a police officer.

She said: “We have had people knocked unconscious, broken shoulders, broken wrists.

I have witnessed a number of incidents with people who are very obviously disabled people.”

These include repeated incidents involving Sheldrick, Allen and Beck.

She said: “I have seen Liz [Beck] knocked to the floor several times and I have seen another friend who uses a wheelchair [Sheldrick] tipped to the floor.

I have spoken to another lady wheelchair-user who narrowly avoided being tipped.”

She said: “I can’t say for certain that those people are targeted but it does seem a bit bizarre to me that someone could be tipped six times from their chair if they are not targeted.

Every occasion [Sheldrick] has been right next to me and I have seen what’s happened and there’s a clear manoeuvre that tips him forwards or backwards or sideways.

I have asked if [targeting disabled people] was a tactic and they deny it.”

She is another who believes the targeting of those seen as more vulnerable is a deliberate ploy to undermine the morale and determination of protesters.

She said: “It is completely unsafe. The police will say the only reasons they are present at PNR is for our safety, but at the same minute you’re being rugby tackled to the floor or tipped out of your wheelchair.

I think their tactics are to get the industry wagons through the gates at any cost and they justify it by saying it’s for our safety, but it’s not. It’s a very dangerous game they are playing.”

Cox and another local councillor, along with residents and protesters, formally withdrew from monthly meetings with the police last month when they realised the force was “not even paying lip service” to their complaints.

None of the complaints that she and others have lodged with the force – to her knowledge – have been upheld.

She believes – as do fellow protesters – that police forces across the country are now using the anti-fracking protests as a means of training officers, developing a template to use on other protests.

She said: “We have conversations like this all the time. When I look at patterns of police behaviour at different anti-fracking sites, they seem to follow a similar sort of pattern.

You can almost predict what is going to happen.”

Another piece of footage shot by protesters, and reported by the Independent last year, shows a disabled member of the Green party, 85-year-old Anne Power, being dragged across a road by police officers while protesting peacefully outside another fracking site, at Little Plumpton, also in Lancashire.

DNS has also spoken to Nina Tailor, from Gathering Place Films (GPF), which has been filming anti-fracking protests around the country for more than five years.

She said she has grown increasingly surprised by the police behaviour GPF has observed at anti-fracking protests across the country, including the way officers appear to be targeting disabled and older protesters, and women.

DNS has seen some of the footage she has shot and collected from protesters for a film GPF is making, Frack It and See, about fracking in the UK.

Kevin Blowe, coordinator for the Network for Police Monitoring (NETPOL), believes the police are targeting protesters perceived as vulnerable, including disabled people.

He believes this is happening partly to “scare people away” but also to try to provoke a reaction from other protesters, so the police then have an excuse to arrest them.

He said: “It’s surprising how many people who have disabilities and who have been prepared to step up seem to be the ones who end up being targeted.

There does seem to be a pattern of people with disabilities being amongst those who are targeted. People on the ground… are saying it’s deliberate.”

NETPOL, which monitors and resists excessive, intimidating or violent policing, is now hoping to encourage some of those protesters who have been injured – including disabled people – to launch legal actions against the police.

Blowe is convinced that police forces are rolling out the tactics from one anti-fracking protest to the next, usually starting with the intention of “facilitating” the protest but soon descending into a “zero tolerance” approach to any form of disruption, even though the protests are peaceful.

NETPOL will be publishing a series of short films about anti-fracking protests, with one on police targeting of protesters published online today.

He said: “Police have been able to get away with things that would horrify most people [because of the rural locations of the anti-fracking protests]… because largely these things are going unreported, partly because it’s not happening in front of all the cameras in central London.”

He is surprised there has not yet been a fatality in any of the anti-fracking protests, and he added: “I know there have been some near misses.”

The danger, he said, is that with disabled people being targeted “you have got to worry that at some point something really terrible is going to happen”.

The evidence of protesters from Preston New Road, and other anti-fracking protests, are backed up by two reports.

Last year, in Protecting the Planet is not a Crime, NETPOL described seeing evidence – particularly from Lancashire – “of police officers pushing people into hedges, knocking campaigners unconscious, violently dragging older people across the road and shoving others into speeding traffic”.

The report added: “We had also heard about the targeting of disabled protesters (including repeatedly tipping a wheelchair user from his chair) and officers using painful pressure point restraint techniques.”

And in March 2016, academics at Liverpool John Moores University and the University of York looked at the policing of the Barton Moss anti-fracking protest camp in their report Keep Moving!

They told how protesters described “the provocative targeting of some of the camp’s more ‘vulnerable’ members, including young, elderly and disabled protesters, and women”, which they were told appeared to stem from “a more systemic tactical approach”.

DNS put a series of questions to Lancashire police shortly after 5.30pm on Monday – including whether it accepted that it had been targeting disabled protesters, and whether it had guidance for dealing with disabled people at protests – but the force had failed to answer the questions by noon today (Thursday).

But a force spokesman said in a statement: “Our intention is to ensure a consistent and coordinated policing response and ensure a balance between the rights of people to lawfully protest, together with the rights of the wider public, including local businesses, to go about their lawful activities.

We aim to prevent, where possible, crime and disorder, but if it does occur we will provide an effective, lawful and proportionate response.”

13 December 2018

 

 

Police targeting of disabled protesters is ‘an outrage and a scandal… and it’s set to spread’

The targeting by police of disabled people involved in peaceful anti-fracking protests is an “absolute outrage” and “a scandal”, but such tactics will soon be rolled out to other protests and other parts of the country, a leading activist has warned.

Andy Greene, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), spoke out as Disability News Service (DNS) revealed “extremely disturbing” evidence that police forces in England have been repeatedly targeting and assaulting disabled people involved in the protests (see separate story).

Some of the most serious concerns reported this week relate to the actions of officers from Lancashire police in dealing with peaceful protests about the drilling activities of the energy company Cuadrilla near Preston New Road, on the edge of Blackpool.

Greene, a veteran of numerous peaceful anti-austerity street protests with DPAC, said the evidence reported by DNS was “extremely disturbing” and the police behaviour “an absolute outrage”.

DNS has seen video footage of a string of incidents in which disabled campaigners taking part in peaceful protests have been injured, manhandled or put at risk of injury by police officers.

It has also spoken to three disabled protesters, and two other eye-witnesses, who have all experienced or witnessed serious and repeated incidents of police brutality targeted at disabled people.

There are now fears that forces across the country that have policed anti-fracking protests are developing a tactics “template” that can be used to target disabled people taking part in other peaceful protests, such as those organised by the anti-cuts and climate change movements.

Greene said: “It is an absolute outrage and a scandal that [police officers] are not just perpetrating this but getting away with it on a daily basis now.

It isn’t an isolated incident, it isn’t a one-off, this isn’t one force, this is an escalation over a period of time with a clear direction of travel and involves many, many forces and it’s clear that there is a bigger strategy out there.”

He said he had seen an “escalation” and a “clear direction of travel” in police tactics since the anti-fracking protests at Balcombe, in Sussex, in the summer of 2013.

He said he had been disturbed by what he had seen at Balcombe, but that there had since been a “scale up” of such tactics with the policing of the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, near Manchester, in late 2013 and early 2014, while what was being seen at Preston New Road was “an escalation again from Barton Moss”.

Greene said: “The on-the-ground tactics are becoming more physical, they’re becoming more confrontational, more provoking, and I think there is a real strategy behind that.”

He said he now expected these police tactics to be “rolled out across the protest movement” over the next year as the country sees a likely increase in political volatility around issues such as anti-fracking, anti-austerity and Brexit.

He said he believed it was “only a matter of time” before the tactics being applied to disabled people at Preston New Road were seen on the streets of London.

He said: “I think they are very careful about where they do it and more particularly where they don’t do it at the moment.”

He believes the police have been using the rural locations of anti-fracking protests as a training ground and “the gloves will come off” in London once they are more confident about their ability to translate what they have learned to “bigger scale” protests in London.

Greene said the barriers facing disabled people attempting to have their voices heard in anti-fracking protests reflect the discrimination they face in other areas of political activity.

Party political activity is often not accessible, while voting is not accessible and polling booths are “an absolute national scandal”, he said.

He said: “If it was any other community that was shut out of having their political voice heard like this there would be complete and utter uproar.”

But he said disabled people had become “more confident, more angry” in the last few years, and had become “more present” in anti-fracking, anti-austerity and other protest movements.

He said: “What we want to see now is an end to this, we want to see people being facilitated to protest, being supported to protest, to demonstrate, to have their political voice heard.

What shouldn’t be happening is state institutions using violence and other means to exclude disabled people from getting involved in political discourse.”

But he urged disabled people not to be put off by what they were hearing of police tactics.

He said: “I would absolutely say that they have to meet this challenge head on, in the same way that they have met previous challenges, whether it is the independent living movement, whether it is anti-austerity.

I think we have to confront this and not be cowed. I think we have to challenge what is going on and bring it into the light, and I think we have to fight back against it.

This should be something that makes us shout louder and be more persistent about what we want.”

Greene said there needed to be “a bigger conversation with the anti-fracking movement about how we deal with this” as well as “a show of support” for those disabled activists who have been targeted.

He said protest movements needed to work together with organisations like NETPOL, which monitors and resists excessive, intimidating or violent policing, to “develop some form of plan for supporting ourselves to deal with this and push back against it”.

13 December 2018

 

 

Mixed response to government’s plans to improve access to air travel

A trio of disabled peers who have all been fierce critics of the discrimination faced by disabled air passengers have delivered a mixed response to the government’s proposed new “passenger charter”.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced on Friday (7 December) that a planned consultation on a new aviation strategy, expected by the end of the year, would include plans for the new charter.

A draft version of the charter, seen by Disability News Service (DNS), includes a series of proposals aimed at improving the way disabled passengers and others with reduced mobility are treated by the air travel industry.

The government’s announcement came just days after the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell called on the government to start handing out “heavy fines” to the air travel industry when it failed to ensure its services were accessible to disabled passengers.

Another disabled peer, the Liberal Democrat president, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, told peers last week how she had been left in tears after being dumped in a corner facing a concrete wall while airport staff tried to find her wheelchair following a flight from Heathrow to Madrid.

The draft charter includes a plan to remove limits imposed on the compensation paid when a wheelchair is damaged during a flight; and stronger enforcement powers for the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which will allow it to fine airlines and other parts of the industry that breach access regulations.

There are also proposals to improve the way wheelchairs are stored during flights; to raise awareness among disabled people of airport assistance services; and to tighten standards on how long passengers should wait for their wheelchairs at the end of a flight.

If the draft charter was adopted, it would also mean airlines having to make “all reasonable efforts to arrange seating to meet the needs of disabled passengers”, while some new and refurbished aeroplanes would have to include at least one accessible toilet.

In addition to the passenger charter, the government is to support a working group from the industry, which will include wheelchair manufacturers, disability representatives and the CAA, to achieve the “longer term goal” of creating a system that will allow disabled passengers to “travel safely in their own wheelchairs in the aircraft cabin”.

But the president of the Liberal Democrats, the disabled peer Baroness [Sal] Brinton, told DNS that the charter proposals did not go far enough.

She said: “A charter places very little obligation on either the carriers or the airports to deliver.

This means that the disabled traveller will have very little recourse when things go wrong. 

Baroness Sugg [the aviation minister] talked about fines for carriers and airports that fail to deliver but we haven’t yet seen how easy it will be for complaints to be made and judgements passed that actually result in fines.

The record on fines for train operating companies missing their targets has been woeful. 

A charter will not be enough to change the culture and practice that results in disabled passengers being let down time after time, being treated as a piece of luggage and trapped in disabled ghettos. 

We need more: we need clear standards which if missed give disabled passengers the equivalent of a delay repay* when trains are late, as well as large fines for carriers and airports if they miss wider accessibility targets.”

She added: “This government is very fond of codes and charters which sound great but actually don’t change anything for the consumer because they have no teeth.

We have the same problem with the Victims Code, which sounds lovely but there is no duty on the agencies (police, criminal justice system, councils) to actually deliver it. So they don’t.” 

The crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell was more optimistic.

Although she has not yet been able to examine the charter, because of the Brexit debate occupying both houses of parliament, she said it appeared to be “quite a big leap for the industry and realistically that’s all that can be achieved in the short term (the coming year)”.

But she said industry members had now recognised that they “must up their game significantly to address the increasing flow of criticism, otherwise the bad publicity will accelerate dissatisfaction from the public at large, which in turn will damage their business, economically and image wise”.

She told DNS: “I am hoping in the slightly longer term, the industry will address what we know from experience will be continuing discrimination with stronger regulations and fines.

Because if they don’t, the campaign will just increase and eventually hurt them.”

After speaking to Chris Wood, the father of two disabled sons and founder of the campaign Disabled Flying, she said she believed it was necessary to capitalise on the apparent willingness of some parts of the industry to introduce a way to allow wheelchair-users to travel on aeroplanes in their own wheelchairs.

And she said it was crucial that disabled people were “centrally involved” in “developing the design of the reasonable adjustments and advising on the service delivery as a whole, so that it is fit for everyone and discriminates against no-one”, and that it was time to demand “more co-production”.

She suggested that disabled people should join Wood’s campaign in the absence of a successful disabled-led alternative, as he had been a “fantastic” ally to disabled people.

Another crossbench disabled peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, said removing limits on compensation for damaged wheelchairs would be “a step forward” and would “make some airlines think a bit”.

She also said that the working group would mean that some disabled people who are currently “completely excluded” from flying might have an opportunity to do so, which she said “feels like an open door”.

Baroness Grey-Thompson said there still needed to be better recognition that disabled people face “discrimination and poor treatment”, with too many passengers given the impression that their experiences are only one-offs.

She said: “I think the charter is a step forward. It should be easier to sort out the problems disabled people face.

They shouldn’t have such bad experiences and be made to feel that they are an inconvenience.”

A spokeswoman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “It is encouraging to see the government putting a major focus on the flying experience of disabled people, especially following the widely reported and unacceptable failures that have occurred in this space.

These recommendations are a positive step towards tackling discrimination against disabled passengers.”

Nusrat Ghani, the DfT accessibility minister, said: “We need to address the fact that 57 per cent of disabled passengers say they find flying and using airports difficult.

That’s why our proposed passenger charter includes measures designed to make real changes that will improve the accessibility of flying, building on the ambitions set out in our Inclusive Transport Strategy earlier this year.

We are committed to continuing the progress the industry has already made in making the aviation network truly open to all.”

*The national rail compensation scheme for unexpected delays and cancellations

13 December 2018

 

 

Ideas to replace WCA with new assessment framework win some support

Disabled activists have delivered a generally positive response to fresh ideas on how to replace the hated fitness for work test with a new assessment framework that would restore “dignity and respect” to those unable to work full-time.

The ideas were presented by disabled researcher and campaigner Catherine Hale at a meeting attended by Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell, shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood, and Marsha de Cordova, the party’s shadow minister for disabled people.

Last month’s was the second in an ongoing series of meetings – focused on the work capability assessment (WCA) – between senior figures in the party and some of the disabled activists who have played a key role in exposing the harm caused by the government’s social security cuts and reforms.

Hale, lead researcher and project manager of the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project (CIIP), and a member of the Spartacus Network, presented some of the ideas she has been working on with fellow Spartacus and CIIP researcher Stef Benstead*.

Hale fears that if disabled people do not come up with their own model to replace the hated WCA then something will be imposed on them.

She said after the meeting: “If we have to have assessments, I’d rather we designed them and achieved a consensus among ourselves.

Some will say to hell with assessments, or just get doctors to sign us off as not fit for work, but I think both those positions are naive.”

Any new assessment framework should have four key principles if it is to restore the human rights of disabled people, she says, in a blog subsequently posted on her website**, which was based on her presentation at the meeting.

She says such a system should overturn the ideology behind the “hostile environment” created by the government’s social security reforms and restore “dignity and respect” to disabled people; it should change the relationship between work and health; it must empower disabled people; and it should provide an “adequate and secure” baseline standard of living.

Hale says that Labour must now commit to removing the “adversarial stance running through all DWP’s assessment systems” which cast disabled people as “guilty until proven innocent”.

A Labour government would also need to work to “bring about culture change” within DWP, and “eliminate conditionality and sanctions as a punitive tool for getting disabled people into work”.

Compliance interviews, benefit fraud hotlines and “other instruments of intimidation and suspicion” must all be eliminated, she says, as must the outsourcing of assessments to private contractors.

She also calls for a new “parity of esteem” between paid work and unpaid work such as caring, volunteering, peer support, and self-care, while she says the NHS should never view whether someone is in work as an indicator of health or recovery.

The government should also bring in disabled people to develop new assessment criteria, which should test how disabled people are disadvantaged by both barriers in the labour market and their impairments, says Hale.

Reaction from disabled activists to Hale’s presentation, most of who were at the meeting, has been generally positive, although neither Greenwood or de Cordova were able to comment this week.

The WOWcampaign, which was represented at the meeting, said Hale’s presentation “was very much in line with the thinking of the WOWcampaign, especially in proposing the ending of the hostile environment (sanctions and conditionality) and stating that the purpose of any assessment must be to empower and enable disabled people”.

But a WOW spokesman added: “As stated at the roundtable, WOWcampaign’s concern is that the focus is on the ability of the disabled person seeking work and not on the structural discrimination, prejudice and exclusion that has not only continued but increased in the workplace over the terms of the last two governments.

There is absolutely no point in disabled people going away and preparing for work if there is and will never be any appropriate work out there for them.”

Disability Labour said it was “very impressed” by Hale’s presentation.

Wayne Blackburn, co-chair of Disability Labour, who was present at the meeting, said: “We completely agree that disabled people should not be treated as guilty until proven innocent; our knowledge of our own conditions and how they affect us must be believed and respected.

There has to be a fundamental culture change within DWP; the negative attitudes and unconscious bias must end.”

Fellow co-chair Fran Springfield, who also attended the meeting, said she supported Hale’s position that paid work was not the only route to social participation, was often not the most appropriate route for disabled people, and must never be damaging to health and wellbeing or used as an indicator of health or recovery.

Springfield said: “Bringing back DWP assessments in-house, as a Labour government will do, is so important.

Disabled people should never be abused to provide shareholder profit.

I believe what is absolutely vital is integrating assessments of care and support needs into the assessment of work capability.

Supporting us with independent living would make a huge difference to those of us who are able to work or volunteer.”

And she said that providing a secure baseline income was “an essential element of our human rights”, as was “understanding and accepting that some people will never be well enough or able to volunteer or work”.

She and Blackburn said Disability Labour was working on how such ideas could be implemented and “look forward to being able to integrate that into the work that John McDonnell’s team is already doing”.

Gail Ward, from Black Triangle, said Hale and Benstead had “put forward good arguments for replacement of the WCA”, although she said that Black Triangle had “grave reservations” about Benstead’s suggestion that occupational therapists should be closely involved in a new assessment process.

John McArdle, also from Black Triangle, said Hale had “brought forward many excellent ideas”.

He said that any incoming government would “have to go at least as far as the Scottish government and consult with disabled people themselves and not those who purport to represent them”.

He added: “Paramount in that exercise would be to engage and consult widely with individual disabled people themselves in a sincere effort to discover what would constitute a new social security system worthy of calling itself one which places dignity and respect at the very heart of the system, while complying with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

Rick Burgess, of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and Recovery in the Bin, said it was “very early days” and the ideas should be seen as “exploring possibilities” rather than drafting plans for a new assessment process.

He also stressed that there should be legislation to address the barriers faced by disabled people in the labour market, rather than attempting to address the discrimination they faced solely through social security reforms.

He also said the ideological push to see work as a “cure” must not act as an excuse to reduce income or support provided by social security or the social care system. 

He said: “Catherine and Stef’s work is helpful to add to the all the ideas and ways of thinking we have to engage in.

Overall, what I think is important is that Labour/a new government draws up social security reform in co-production with disabled people and service users primarily and not allow corporations, charities or the medical establishment to lead it.”

Burgess said he believed disabled people should not look to replace only the WCA and benefits such as personal independence payment, but instead “replace the entire relationship between the state and disabled people which has been a hostile one for so long”. 

Bob Ellard, a member of the DPAC national steering group, was more critical.

He said he did not agree with the principles of Hale’s paper because the ideas centred on the link between social security and work inequality, “and that link needs to be broken”.

He said that a fair incapacity benefit system would have to remove that link and be based purely on need, with the government then tackling issues such as “workplace discrimination, access to transport, education and training and other issues that are barriers to disabled people gaining good quality work”.

But he added: “In terms of short-term measures that Labour could take pending a redesign of social security there are some good things in there, but I don’t view it as a model for a long-term replacement.”

*Benstead has previously produced a series of reports on replacing ESA for the thinktank Ekklesia

**Comments on the ideas can be posted on her website

13 December 2018

 

 

Fresh Motability criticism after watchdog’s report

The company that runs the Motability car scheme and the charity that oversees its work are facing fresh criticism from disabled campaigners, following a watchdog’s report that criticises the company’s huge financial reserves and excessive profits and executive pay.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report concludes that the Motability scheme has delivered “excellent service” and “remarkable satisfaction levels” (99 per cent in 2017-18) among its more than 600,000 customers.

But it also says that the scheme has generated “substantial cash surpluses”, while Motability Operations – the company that runs the scheme – has failed to disclose more than £1.5 million in bonuses that were due to be paid to its chief executive, Mike Betts.

It also reports that five Motability Operations executive directors received more than £15 million in bonuses between them in just seven years. In 2016-17, Betts himself received a total financial package of £1.7 million, including his salary and bonuses.

NAO found that Motability Operations had £2.62 billion in its reserves in March 2018 and that it had made £2.19 billion in profits between 2007-08 and 2016-17, more than £1 billion higher than it had forecasted.

And it says that underestimating the value of used cars meant that disabled customers have been charged £390 million more than was required in their lease agreements to cover the costs of depreciation.

But NAO also warns that it is not clear if the Motability charity*, which oversees the work of Motability Operations, could absorb the scale of the extra donations it has received from the company – including an extra £400 million donation in September – as a result of its unplanned profits “in a way that can maximise its effectiveness”.

Motability Operations had previously donated £345 million to the charity between 2010 and 2017.

NAO’s recommendations include a series of reviews to be carried out by Motability, Motability Operations and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The report also raises concerns about the diversity of Motability’s board of governors, and how long some of them have been in post, with four current governors who have each served for more than 16 years.

There is also not a single black and minority ethnic governor, and just one woman among the charity’s 11 governors.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said DPAC had started raising concerns about the bonuses paid to Betts several years ago, as well as about the level of reserves held in the charity’s Motability Tenth Anniversary Trust.

In 2014, the charity introduced new rules which restricted the grants made from its Specialised Vehicle Fund (SVF) to disabled people with high support needs, which mean that only disabled people who spend more than 12 hours-a-week in education, work, volunteering or caring can qualify for grants that enable them to lease a drive-from-wheelchair vehicle.

Burnip said: “There can be no reason, given the billions in [Motability Operations] reserves, for any disabled person to be refused a grant for a drive-from wheelchair or internal transfer vehicle.

It is blatant discrimination to restrict access to such vehicles which disabled people with the highest support needs require to enhance their independence.”

Ian Jones, co-founder of the WOWcampaign but speaking personally as a Motability customer, said: “Motability Operations has collected and hoarded £2.62 billion (March 2018) of disabled people’s money, which was paid on the understanding it was to cover costs.

Motability Operations has paid its directors millions of pounds of money collected from disabled people in bonuses, for hitting performance targets described by the National Audit Office as ‘easily exceeded since 2008’.”

He said that Motability Operations, which states that all its profits are reinvested into the scheme, had instead effectively paid “dividends” of £745 million to the charity over the last eight years, payments which “grossly exceed the charity’s annual running costs”.

He said: “I am very worried that the above items may tend to bring the Motability charity into disrepute and call on the Charity Commission to immediately launch an investigation to reassure disabled people and the public at large that disabled people’s money is being spent responsibly and not misappropriated by ‘fat cats’ working for and controlling Motability Operations.”

Graham Footer, chief executive of Disabled Motoring UK, said: “Many of our charity’s members are on the Motability scheme and have been for a number of years.

While the scheme provides an essential lifeline to these individuals, we believe that Motability could make better use of its surpluses to not only improve the scheme for its customers but alleviate many of the problems they face on a daily basis as disabled motorists.

We look forward to working with Motability in the future to fully implement the recommendations of the National Audit Office.” 

Lord Sterling, who co-founded the Motability scheme in 1977 and now chairs the charity, said it had accepted all NAO’s recommendations, including the need for a review of the level of reserves held by Motability Operations.

But he said the suggestion that customers were charged more than was required to cover the leasing costs was “open to further debate” because its customers pay “45 per cent less than the market rate for their vehicles, in addition to the support, insurance and vehicle enhancements that we offer”.

He said that “every penny, surplus to sustainability and to this excellent price and service, goes to help enhance the lives of our disabled customers and their families”.

He added: “The scheme has cumulatively delivered five million vehicles, many heavily adapted, putting millions of disabled people and their families on ‘the road to freedom’.

I am very glad that Sir Amyas Morse, the comptroller and auditor general at the National Audit Office, has personally commended the excellence of our service and quality of our management.

That praise, of course, is due to the wonderful dedication of all those employed at both Motability and Motability Operations.”

Motability declined to comment on or answer any further concerns or questions this week, including what impact the NAO report might have on how much disabled customers pay for their Motability vehicles and the service they receive, although it said there were exceptions to the SVF rules.

A spokeswoman said the charity would not be issuing further comments ahead of a new inquiry to be held by MPs in the new year.

Motability Operations welcomed the NAO report and said it was “proud that it has acknowledged the impressive performance of the company, and the excellent service it offers to 625,000 disabled people and their families”.

In response to the report, it said it would improve its reporting of executive pay and bonuses and review its approach to forecasting.

It will also develop, with the charity, a 10-year plan for how profits are re-invested or donated and will work with the charity to support an independent review of reserves.

Motability Operations also announced that Betts would step down as chief executive by May 2020.

The Commons work and pensions and Treasury committees will be holding a fresh inquiry into the Motability scheme in the new year.

Frank Field, the Labour MP who chairs the work and pensions committee, said – in a letter to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd – that the NAO report made for “grim reading”.

He said the “value of the scheme cannot be allowed to blind us to serious concerns about its governance – not least the unjustifiably high levels of executive pay and the colossal financial reserves built up by Motability Operations”.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We asked the NAO to investigate and are grateful for the valuable insight provided, which strengthens our concerns regarding Motability Operation’s financial model.

We agree with the NAO’s finding that the Motability scheme provides an excellent service.

To ensure that the scheme is focused on delivering better value for money we are committed to working with the charity and key stakeholders so that current and future arrangements result in improved outcomes for disabled people.”

*The Motability charity is a Disability News Service subscriber

13 December 2018

 

 

PIP announcement should mean more claimants are spared reassessments

Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd has announced measures that should mean fewer disabled people are forced to undergo unnecessary benefit reassessments.

Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, announced in June that new claimants of personal independence payment (PIP) with the “most severe, lifelong conditions” who were awarded the highest level of support and whose needs were not expected to decrease would only receive a “light touch” review of their award every 10 years.

Rudd said this week that this measure would be extended to existing PIP claimants.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said this was to “ensure that for disabled people who need extra support, the system is designed to be as seamless as possible while minimising any unnecessary stress or bureaucracy”.

Guidance for PIP case managers on which new PIP claimants will qualify for the “light touch” review and an “ongoing” award was published quietly by DWP in August.

The guidance does not mention any particular conditions.

Instead, it says such an award should be made if “the claimant’s restrictions on Daily Living and/or Mobility are stable and unlikely to change significantly or they have very high levels of needs which will only deteriorate” or if “the claimant is awarded enhanced/enhanced and their needs are not going to improve or would only deteriorate”.

Newton’s announcement in June was seen by some as another move back towards disability living allowance (DLA), the benefit PIP is replacing for working-age claimants.

One of the key reasons that ministers gave for introducing PIP was that DLA supposedly allowed claimants to secure unchecked “welfare for life” because of the lack of repeat assessments.

Esther McVey, who quit as work and pensions secretary last month, made the claim herself five years ago in a bid to justify the introduction of PIP and proposed cuts of 20 per cent.

But Jenny Morris, who helped write the Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People white paper, said in June that people were placed on lifetime DLA awards “for very good reasons” and all the government had done by introducing PIP and its frequent reassessments in 2013 was to “create extra costs for themselves”.

She said that the “light touch” announcement showed the government had spent years and wasted hundreds of millions of pounds on its PIP reforms, while exposing people to assessments that were “very oppressive and upsetting”.

This week, one disabled people’s organisation, Buckinghamshire Disability Service (BuDS), suggested that Rudd’s announcement should be treated “very cautiously”.

BuDS said that 18 per cent of PIP claimants already receive lifetime awards, and it added: “The chances are that this announcement will make very little difference for most people.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The guidance change has not been in place long enough for us to provide estimates of how many people may gain.”

13 December 2018

 

 

Disabled facilities grants need fresh approach and fairer formula, says review

The government should implement major changes to the scheme that provides funding for disabled people in England to make access improvements to their homes, according to an independent review.

Among the suggested improvements, the review says the government should increase the upper limit on disabled facilities grants (DFGs) from £30,000, although only in line with inflation.

It also suggests renaming the grant as part of a national awareness-raising campaign, with a new name that is “up to date and easily recognisable”; producing a fairer and more transparent funding formula; and introducing a national accreditation scheme for builders and tradespeople carrying out adaptations.

In October’s budget, the chancellor announced another £55 million in funding for DFGs for 2018-19, following a previous decision to increase funding for DFGs from £220 million in 2015-16 to £505 million in 2019-20.

But the review points out that, although the government has already more than doubled DFG funding in recent years, the contribution of local authorities has fallen, which has meant the number of homes adapted – at least until 2016-17 – “has not significantly increased”.

The review, Disabled Facilities Grant and Other Adaptations, says the DFG is “often seen as simply providing level access showers, stair lifts and ramps”.

Instead, the review suggests, there should be “a fresh approach that is all-encompassing and creates a home environment that enables disabled people to live a full life”.

It adds: “Districts and counties, housing and social care, occupational therapists and grants officers will need to work together to establish person-centred services that meet a disabled person’s needs in a more preventative, holistic and timely way.”

The review says the way the DFG system is delivered varies widely across different areas, and it makes recommendations for improvements, including the need to bring together occupational therapists and housing staff into single integrated teams, which is already happening in some areas and will “simplify and speed up customer journeys”.

Among other recommendations, the review says that housing and health partnership boards should be set up in every part of England to have responsibility for meeting the housing needs of disabled and older people in their area and maximise the impact of DFGs.

The review was commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health and Social Care and was carried out by the University of the West of England; Foundations, the national body for home improvement agencies; the Building Research Establishment; and Ferret Information Systems.

The government said it was “carefully considering the findings”.

13 December 2018

 

 

Stars add support to bid to transform access for disabled musicians

A user-led music charity has launched a major survey of disabled musicians in a bid to push for improvements to the accessibility of performing, rehearsing and recording spaces.

Attitude is Everything’s (AiE) NEXT STAGE project has already secured the support of leading disabled musicians such as Blaine Harrison of Mystery Jets, singer-songwriter and violinist Gaelynn Lea, Kris Halpin from Winter of ’82, and Rob Maddison from Revenge of Calculon.

AiE is now looking for disabled and Deaf musicians to take part in the nationwide survey and provide information about their own experiences of rehearsing, recording, playing live, attending industry events and applying for arts funding.

The charity has previously focused on improving accessibility for disabled people who attend festivals and live music gigs, but its new project aims to support the music industry to develop inclusive spaces for performing live, recording, networking and pursuing a career in music.

AiE hopes to use the survey results to develop a comprehensive network of disabled artists, musicians, songwriters and DJs.

Suzanne Bull, AiE’s chief executive, said: “We have spent almost 20 years working for disabled audiences and now, with support from Arts Council England, we want to improve accessibility for disabled artists. 

This process will not be easy. The challenges facing Deaf and disabled people are often hidden, and rarely discussed publicly. There are a range of stigmas and sensibilities.

So our first goal is to collect information through a comprehensive and wide-reaching survey. 

By paying attention to artists’ voices, I believe we can build a thriving network of talent that will enhance British music and benefit all in the wider music community.” 

Harrison, an AiE patron, said that “hearing the experiences and voices of disabled artists will hugely diversify and enrich the music industry of tomorrow”.

He said: “Since we started out playing shows there has been a huge shift in the music industry’s attitude towards deaf and disabled audiences.

It’s been so inspiring to see live-signing catching on at gigs and festivals, not to mention how popular viewing platforms have become.

And when you’re up there it’s not hard to see why. The atmosphere is one of shared joy; reminding us that the live music experience is one we can all participate in. 

But backstage, it’s often another story. Dressing rooms can be tucked away up steep flights of stairs in the eaves of the building; if there are lifts they are often made for hauling heavy equipment and not safe to ride in unattended.

For artists requiring some alone time to mentally prepare for the pressures of a performance, the back of the van in the car park can sometimes be the closest thing to a safe space.”

Halpin said: “We often see commitment from venues to improve access for disabled audience members, but often backstage it’s as if no-one ever considered the existence of disabled people.”

Maddison added: Whilst on tour, disabled artists often encounter huge problems in terms of accessible transport and accommodation, the last thing we need is to arrive at the venue we’re booked to perform at only to find out that it is totally inaccessible as well.

All of these barriers inevitably result in a situation where disabled artists feel excluded from playing live, and the knock-on effect is that you rarely see any high-profile disabled artists in the music industry as a whole.

Tomorrow (14 December), at Cafe OTO, AiE is co-promoting the accessible London date of Gaelynn Lea’s UK tour in support of her new album, Learning How To Stay. There will be a question and answer discussion before the performance on accessibility and live music with Gaelynn Lea and Suzanne Bull, moderated by BBC’s Nicola Stanbridge

13 December 2018

 

 

Energy efficiency policy sidelines disabled people, says report

Much more needs to be done to ensure that disabled people and other groups in fuel poverty can benefit from energy efficiency schemes, according to a new report.

The report says that disabled people often have higher energy demands, because of factors such as health-related needs to keep warm and the electricity needed to use equipment such as nebulisers, stair lifts and hoists, and to charge wheelchairs.

The report, published by the UK Energy Research Centre, University of York, and ACE Research, says this can lead to both higher energy costs and a greater risk of harm if energy supplies are disconnected.

The report says current policy is focused too much on targets and providing work to improve the energy efficiency of homes – such as installing cavity wall insulation and replacing inefficient boilers – at the lowest possible cost.

Because disabled people often live in the poorest quality homes and need extra support through the installation process, they are often side-lined by those providing schemes such as the government’s Energy Company Obligation (ECO) energy efficiency programme.

They also face other barriers, such as problems caused by the disruption of the energy supply while installation is taking place, the inaccessibility of the application process and the difficulty of carrying out preparatory work, such as clearing a loft space.

There are also “high levels of mistrust” of the energy sector.

Among its recommendations, the report calls for the government to reinstate a taxpayer-funded scheme in England, where there has been no such programme since the demise of Warm Front in 2013, even though Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all operate such schemes.

It calls for investment in energy efficiency support in England to be “brought up to par with the devolved nations with the reintroduction of a tax-payer funded energy efficiency scheme”.

It also concludes that “the trustworthiness of energy efficiency programmes needs to be improved, most notably in England”.

As well as the report, Policy Pathways to Justice in Energy Efficiency, the two-year research project has also published a guide for those working in the sector on supporting disabled people, Supporting Fuel Poor Disabled People Through Energy Efficiency Measures.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which helped deliver the project, said the research showed how current policy was “overly focused on targets and low-cost provision to the exclusion of the people living in fuel poor homes”.

It said the research also shows how households in need are “difficult to find, that they do not receive adequate information that is accessible and from a trusted source, and how their needs are not always taken into consideration during the installation process”.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of DR UK, said that delivery of energy efficiency policy was “variable and patchy”, and there was “a lack of knowledge and awareness of the specific needs of disabled people”.

She said that 30 per cent of families living in poverty contain a disabled person and are at particular risk of experiencing fuel poverty.

She said: “Too often fuel poverty is thought of as an issue that only impacts older disabled people, but the reality is that fuel poverty blights the lives of disabled people of any age: from children, to adults of working age, to older people.

The effects of fuel poverty can penetrate deep into everyday life and exacerbate existing impairments and health conditions.”

Dr Joanne Wade, chief executive of ACE, said: “In short, the needs of older people – important though they undoubtedly are – have been prioritised above those of people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, and those of families with young children.

All these groups are vulnerable to the ill-effects of cold homes, and many people within them also have greater than average needs for energy services.

We have to stop ignoring people who don’t always have the loudest voices; we have to stop avoiding people who are harder to engage, or more expensive and more difficult to help than others.”

13 December 2018

 

 

New DWP employment scheme could support 10,000 disabled people

The new work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, has announced details of a new voluntary programme for disabled people who are long-term unemployed.

The programme aims to provide “highly personalised packages of employment support for people who are at least a year away from moving into work”, with the target of supporting 10,000 disabled people over four years.

Those on the scheme will receive coaching to “build their independence, confidence and motivation, as well as work experience to help boost their career prospects”.

The scheme will be rolled out across England and Wales in 2019, providing support for up to 21 months, including six months of in-work support for those who secure a job.

Rudd said: “Everyone, no matter what their background is, should have the opportunity to thrive in the workplace, and having the right support in place for disabled people is one of my greatest priorities.

To truly help people transform their lives, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach.

That’s why this new programme is designed to offer people, who may think they will never move into work, tailored support to help them overcome any personal barriers they may have in the first instance, and then to focus on boosting their skills.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the £40 million funding for the scheme – to be spread over four years – had not come from the cuts of nearly £30-a-week in payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance who are placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG), a measure that was introduced last year.

The government has predicted that it will save an estimated £450 million a year from the WRAG cuts by 2020-21 and has said it will invest a total of £330 million of those savings over four years from April 2017 in employment support for those affected.

But a DWP spokeswoman said: “The funding in the business case is from the DWP baseline and not part of the £330 million relating to employment support and WRAG removal.”

13 December 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 15:17
Dec 062018
 

 

UN day of disabled people: Newton silent on international day… again

The minister for disabled people has been unable to explain why she failed to make any public statement to support disabled people’s battle for rights on the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).

It is the second year in a row that Sarah Newton has apparently demonstrated a lack of interest in domestic and international efforts to further their rights.

Last year, Newton failed to organise or attend any IDPD events on the day, which is celebrated around the world, or send any messages of support through her Twitter or Facebook accounts.

This year, her Twitter page was again silent, other than retweeting a couple of messages sent by her Office for Disability Issues about an event she had attended, while her Facebook page failed to make any mention of the day.

Her silence on the UN’s international day of disabled people contrasted with her support for Carers Rights Day, which had taken place three days earlier, with Newton telling her followers on 30 November that she wanted to “say a huge thank you to carers across the country for the great work they do each and every day supporting the most vulnerable in society”.

Newton’s parliamentary office declined to comment and referred Disability News Service (DNS) to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

A DWP spokeswoman said: “It’s frankly ludicrous to cast aspersions about someone’s allegiance to a day based on whether they have posted online or on social media.

The minister’s commitment to empowering and supporting disabled people is unwavering, and she attended events to mark International Day for Disabled Persons and announced the recruitment of six new sector champions.”

She declined to say if Newton would apologise.

The press release about the appointment of the new disability sector champions, which was issued on Monday, did include a quote from Newton, but her comment failed to mention the UN international day.

Newton’s failure to support the UN day contrasted with Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, who released a video “to celebrate the contributions disabled people make everyday” and their struggle for rights, and to call for an end to the “hostile environment” they faced because of government policies.

She also hosted a meeting, organised by the TUC disabled workers’ committee, Unite the union and Disabled People Against Cuts (see separate story), which called for the government’s universal credit benefit system to be scrapped, although de Cordova herself did not call for it to be scrapped because Labour’s position is still to “pause and fix” the system.

De Cordova told DNS: “The UN international day of disabled people is crucial to promoting the rights of disabled people in Britain and across the globe.

This government has shown a shocking disregard for the day itself, and the importance of what it represents.

Given that Conservative policies were labelled as responsible for ‘grave’ and ‘systematic’ rights violations by the UN, this is sadly unsurprising.”

Newton’s government has been repeatedly and severely criticised by the United Nations for severe breaches of its human rights obligations.

Only last month, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said the government had inflicted “great misery” on disabled people and other marginalised groups, with ministers in a state of “denial” about the impact of their policies.

And last year, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities delivered a damning verdict on the government’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with its chair saying that cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” in the UK.

6 December 2018

 

 

UN day of disabled people: Activists fight purple campaign’s ‘hijack’ of rights day

Disabled activists have fought back against what they say are attempts by the government and big business to “hijack” the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities through their support for a purple-themed campaign that focuses on disability employment.

The #PurpleLightUp campaign, which was launched last year, aims to celebrate the economic contribution of disabled employees.

It is led by PurpleSpace, a disabled-led organisation which describes itself as a “professional development hub for disabled employee networks” and is headed by Kate Nash, a former chief executive of RADAR, one of the three disability organisations that merged to become Disability Rights UK.

Among those supporting the #PurpleLightUp campaign on Monday’s international day were the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the Treasury, controversial government contractor Atos – which produced purple lovehearts and cupcakes to mark the day – and accountancy giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

It was also supported by banking giants Lloyds Bank and HSBC, both closely associated with the global recession that led to government austerity policies that have caused misery for hundreds of thousands of disabled people in the UK since 2010.

But disabled activists are furious at how they believe the campaign has “hijacked” the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), which focuses on the rights of disabled people.

The theme of this year’s UN international day was supposed to be empowering disabled people and ensuring “inclusiveness and equality” on development issues.

Now disabled activists have begun a fightback, calling for the UN day to be marked in the future with what they say are the true colours of the disabled people’s movement: turquoise and yellow.

Cllr Pam Thomas, a disabled Labour councillor on Liverpool City Council and a former member of the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN), persuaded her council to light up its civic buildings on Monday in turquoise and yellow.

She said these colours had been used by disabled people’s campaigns for equality since the 1990s, with accounts from the period suggesting that turquoise represented “unity” and yellow stood for “freedom”.

Among the more recent UK disability rights battles that have used turquoise and yellow was the campaign to save the Independent Living Fund.

Thomas said #PurpleLightUp was “not about disabled people’s rights, but about economic activity”, and she pointed to its close connection with DWP and its discredited Disability Confident employment scheme.

She said: “What is really annoying me is that Purple Light Up has taken our international day for their own agenda.

Disabled people are experiencing the extreme hardships of ideologically-imposed austerity, as shown in several different reports, our own organisations have had funding cut and hardly any remain.

Meanwhile, large multi-million pound disability charities and commercial organisations are prepared to promote and perpetuate the DWP’s agenda, which is one of the main deliverers of austerity on disabled people.”

She said she was “so disappointed” that disabled people would support the involvement of these organisations in #PurpleLightUp, “knowing what Atos and all the other government departments have done to disabled people.

How could they side with them and not the disabled people’s civil rights movement?”

Disabled activists have pointed out that DWP has been repeatedly shamed by the UN for its grievous breaches of international rights treaties, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Thomas said: “Disabled people involved with Purple Light Up need to consider their own ethical position of promoting the DWP agenda and their own business, whilst shutting down disabled people who are campaigning for civil rights and against austerity and oppression, on our international day of all days.”

She said she would now push the Labour party and trade unions to adopt yellow and turquoise as the colours of the disabled people’s civil rights movement.

Nash defended her organisation’s #PurpleLightUp campaign.

She said the idea came from disabled employees wanting to move away from discussions of “deficit”, “welfare reform” and “getting people into work” and towards sharing “stories of success” and disabled people’s contribution “to economies and civil society”. 

She said: “#PurpleLightUp is therefore designed to celebrate the economic contribution of disabled employees – and the response from disabled people, employers and the public, across the world, where it was featured in 17,000 tweets, suggest that others want to do that too.”

Nash* said 3 December was chosen “as a mark of deep respect to the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities”.

She added: “PurpleSpace applauds the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, an international human rights treaty of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.

We hope the #PurpleLightUp will provide further opportunities to notice our rights and dignity, not diminish them. The responses so far seem to confirm that.”

Nash said: “Our members are from many different types of organisations – we support employee networks and resources groups irrespective of the nature of the business of the organisation, and wherever they are on the journey of change. 

It is not for us to measure the integrity of every contributor, nor judge their record on disability rights.”

But the disabled actor and activist Liz Carr was another to express her anger at the hijacking of the international day.

She said on Twitter: “Happy international day of disabled people to all the fantastic crips who make this world a better place just by existing.

Despite all the purple # bollocks on here, this is not a day for the likes of DWP & ATOS to light up their buildings purple. This is our day.”

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, said: “It is absolutely a hijack which is why the idea of using the turquoise and yellow is absolutely brilliant because it takes it away from their level of commercialism which is what it’s about. Their bottom line is money.

This is something that goes back a long way and it is absolutely about rights and freedoms, which are slowly being eroded away.”

She said the #PurpleLightUp campaign was “window-dressing. It has nothing to do with our rights.

If DWP are going to be lighting themselves up purple they are absolutely no beacon at all of good treatment of disabled people. They terrify us, they terrorise our lives.”

Liverpool City Council also helped celebrate the UN day with the international disability arts festival DaDaFest, which ends on Saturday and has been taking place across the city region since 1 November.

*Kate Nash said that any readers who would like to share their views about the #PurpleLightUp campaign can email her organisation at hello@purplespace.org

6 December 2018

 

 

Mental Health Act review ‘falls significantly short on human rights’

A government-commissioned review* set up to modernise the Mental Health Act has been criticised for falling “significantly short” of recommending full human rights for people in mental distress.

The review, published today (Thursday), includes 154 recommendations for improvements to the Mental Health Act 1983 that its chair, Professor Sir Simon Wessely, says would make it easier for mental health service-users to say how they want to be treated and harder for those requests to be ignored.

The prime minister this morning welcomed the report, announced plans for a new mental health bill, and said the government would respond formally in the new year.

But nearly 150 user-led organisations, allies and individual campaigners – led by the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) – have previously warned that the review appeared to be backing away from the need for fundamental reform of the act.

They have argued that there needs to be “full compliance” with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, with action taken to comply with recommendations made to the UK government last year by the convention’s committee.

NSUN was today highly critical of Wessely’s report, and said many user-led organisations, individuals with lived experience and allies were “disappointed and feel let down” by support for its recommendations from professionals, many mental health charities and some human rights organisations.

An NSUN spokeswoman said: “The recommendations fall significantly short of giving people with mental health diagnoses full human rights as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).”

She said the review had failed to address the concerns raised by NSUN and its supporters in letters to the review in May and October.

Full implementation of the convention would mean – among other changes – an end to detentions, substitute decision-making [appointing someone to make decisions on behalf of a service-user, rather than providing them with support to make the decision themselves] and compulsory treatment.

When asked by Disability News Service at a press conference yesterday why the review had not recommended full implementation of the UN convention, Wessely said that “those kind of recommendations go too far”.

He said the review’s recommendations had “done a lot” to move towards the “very clear and concrete” changes to human rights that the convention demands.

But he said the UN convention made it clear that the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act were not compatible with the treaty.

He said: “I think the truth is that we don’t think that’s right. We don’t think much of the public will think that’s right, we don’t think service-users will and we don’t think parliament will.

We think it’s absolutely right in principles, but I think those kind of recommendations go too far.”

He said there had to be a balance between the need to respect autonomy and “looking after the vulnerable” and he said the review’s recommendations would mean “full compliance” with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Among the 300-page report’s recommendations are a proposal to create new advance choice documents, which would enable people to make choices and statements about their future inpatient care and would be “easier to make, and far more difficult to ignore” than current methods of expressing views about future treatment for those detained or at risk of being detained under the act.

There should also be earlier access to second opinions about treatment, and the right to challenge decisions made by tribunals.

Service-users would be able to choose the person who would have power to take decisions for them if they lacked capacity themselves, rather than having to be allocated a “nearest relative”.

The review also calls for “systematic” improvements by services to take account of the local population’s ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and there is a call to address the frequent inappropriate use of the act to detain autistic people and those with learning difficulties.

The review also said that decisions to give compulsory treatment or detain someone in hospital should be “clearly explained and recorded”, while the harm being mitigated by detaining someone must be recorded and would have to be “significant”.

It also calls for a “substantial” reduction in the use of community treatment orders, particularly for black African and Caribbean people.

And it says that police cells should never be used as a “place of safety” for those who meet the criteria for detention under the act.

The review also calls for improvements to the physical environment of wards “through co-design and co-production with people of relevant lived experience, to maximise homeliness and therapeutic benefit and minimise institutionalisation”.

The review’s recommendations have been welcomed by people with lived experience of mental distress who advised or worked on the review.

Steve Gilbert, a vice-chair of the review and chair of its service-user and carer group, a member of the working group that advised the review’s leadership, and a trustee of the mental health charity Mind, said: “No one person in our group agreed on everything.

However, when we look at the package for reform as a whole, we do feel the recommendations must be adopted, that the act will work better for service-users, families, carers and professionals by delivering better experiences, better outcomes, and it is for this reason that I call upon the government to accept all of our recommendations.”

Asked by DNS about the influence of service-users on the recommendations, Gilbert said they were “fundamental” to the review process and “right there at the centre”, while “in some respects it was service-users leading the development of the recommendations”.

Kate King, who had years of experience of inpatient mental health care – with the care she received ranging “from the excellent to the abusive” – and was a member of the review’s service-user and carer group and the working group, said: “We really need the amendments this review will recommend.”

She said the review’s recommendations would “empower patients to be involved in their care, to make choices when they are well that would be harder to over-rule and to have better access to doctors and tribunals for a review of how and where they are treated”.

But the NSUN spokeswoman said: “People with mental health diagnoses should be able to enjoy the same human rights as other people have; under the review recommendations, this will not be the case.

There has been a failure to draw directly on the type of supported decision-making set out in UNCRPD documentation in relation to people whom clinicians designate as ‘not capable’.

The review report continues to employ an essentially clinical model for understanding and approaching mental distress, despite the fact that significant numbers of service-users have found these unhelpful and despite growing scientific challenges to the evidence base for these.

There is an attempt to address issues for service users from black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities, people with learning difficulties/disabilities and/or autism and young people, though the adequacy of the recommendations has been questioned by a considerable number of service-users.”

And she said there was also “a concerning lack of focus on other intersectional issues, such as gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, older age, including dementia, other disability issues and disadvantaged socio-economic status”.

*The review deals with the UK government’s responsibilities under the Mental Health Act in England and Wales, which cover health policy in England and justice policy across England and Wales

6 December 2018

 

 

UN day of disabled people: Government could face court over universal credit

The government could be forced into court to defend its failure to make the much-criticised universal credit benefit system accessible to disabled people.

A parliamentary meeting held to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) on Monday – and to call for universal credit to be scrapped – heard that disabled campaigners are now seeking claimants willing to help challenge the government’s apparent breach of equality laws.

Inclusion London’s Disability Justice Project (DJP) is considering various possible legal challenges, which could include the failure of jobcentres to make the process accessible for disabled people forced to apply for universal credit, and the failure to assess the impact of the system on disabled people.

Another possible legal challenge could address how the rollout of universal credit has led to disabled people losing accessible housing, or not being able to secure housing that meets their access needs.

DJP is also examining the impact of sanctions and conditions imposed on disabled people through universal credit and whether that could form the basis of a legal action.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, and also representing the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, told the parliamentary meeting that it was a “disgrace” that the government had never carried out an equality impact assessment of the universal credit system, even though it “disproportionately affects disabled people”.

She said universal credit was “fundamentally inaccessible”, with an online system that appeared to have been designed to exclude hundreds of thousands of people from using it, and which disregarded the many disabled people who have never used the internet, and the hundreds of thousands who only have sporadic online access.

She added: “We also happen to think it is legally challengeable under the Equality Act, so we are looking for people who might be interested in making that challenge*.”

Lazard said she could not think of a better event to mark IDPD because universal credit provided a “live, current danger to disabled people now” and despite recent government concessions it “continues to be devastatingly unfit for purpose”.

She said: “Rather than motivating people into work, as this government claims, there is now irrefutable evidence that this hostile and threatening use of sanctions and conditionality is deeply damaging.”

She said there was a “growing number of deaths linked to universal credit” and “widespread experience of a downward spiral of sanctions, debt, food and fuel poverty”, and even destitution, and a regime that was “instilling terror and anxiety in hundreds of thousands of disabled people”.

Lazard said universal credit had been “ideologically designed” to be “punitive and hostile”, and she said disabled people must “refuse to be guinea pigs” in the government’s “ideological experiment”.

The event was organised by the TUC disabled workers’ committee, Unite the union and Disabled People Against Cuts, and was hosted by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova.

Dave Allan, chair of the national disabled members’ committee of Unite, reminded the meeting that the annual TUC Congress unanimously approved a motion he had moved in September that called on the Labour party to shift its stance on universal credit and promise to scrap the system.

Labour’s policy is currently to simply “pause and fix” universal credit rather than scrapping it.

The motion had previously been approved by disabled trade unionists at May’s TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference.

Allan said there was a need for a broad alliance to “put massive pressure” on the government to scrap universal credit.

But he said there was also a need to pressure Labour’s frontbench to commit to scrapping universal credit.

Dorothy Gould, a freelance researcher, trainer and consultant for the National Survivor User Network (NSUN), said people with serious psychological trauma were seeing their mental distress “severely” worsened by the “huge problems associated with universal credit”.

She said people were finding themselves “trapped in a cycle of assessment, rejection and appeals”, and she said the assessment system was “particularly unsuitable for people in mental distress”.

NSUN has been collecting individual accounts of the impact of universal credit.

One woman has told NSUN how the fear of disability cuts over the last two years had given her the most severe mental breakdown she had had in 44 years, involving eight months of illness, six weeks in a psychiatric unit and six months of recovery, which was ongoing.

She told NSUN: “Now my biggest fear has been realised. The Department for Work and Pensions has cut all my disability payments and with two weeks’ notice.”

Everything carefully built up over the last 17 years of self-management to provide some form of stability “has been taken away within two weeks”, she said, and added: “I don’t know where to turn, I’m in despair and in great danger of another major relapse. I have felt suicidal.”

Gould said NSUN was urgently calling on the government to address the “trauma and injustice” caused both by universal credit and people’s experience of the Mental Health Act (see separate story).

Dr Liz Okokon, co-disability officer and women’s officer for Dulwich and West Norwood Labour party and a Unite activist, who works in the NHS, said it was important to feel “positive and hopeful” because “so many people are not going to give up and give in”.

She said: “We can do something about this, we can make a difference, we can change.

There are dreadful stories but [we should remember] the fact that we have our trade union movement behind us, activists from all corners behind us.”

She pointed out how the telling of individual stories of the Windrush scandal had brought it to the mass media.

She said: “Telling these stories really is really important.

We must remember that we are valued as people, not just as commodities, not just those who will go out and bring in a couple of tax dollars.

We have value as people and we need society to remember all of us have value, and not just how many cogs we can put on a wheel.”

Miriam Binder, from Disabled People Against Cuts, said it was important to recognise that universal credit was being introduced “at a time of unprecedented cuts in our social infrastructure”.

She said: “The whole universal credit process is essentially draconian and not fit for purpose.

It is punitive and takes no heed of the personal circumstances of those who are obliged to turn to it.

Universal credit has led to destitution, homelessness, illness, exacerbated disabilities and death.”

She added: “It needs to be stopped and scrapped. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”

The parliamentary event came just two days after a national day of action by Unite against universal credit saw 90 different actions across the country.

Sean McGovern, co-chair of the disabled workers’ committee, said activists now needed to persuade Labour to scrap universal credit.

He said universal credit was an “atrocious social policy” that had already killed “innumerable people” and activists needed to discuss the campaign to scrap universal credit with constituency Labour parties and trade unions.

He said there would not be a formal campaigning alliance but groups needed to work together, including disabled people’s organisations and other grassroots groups, to push for universal credit to be scrapped under a Labour government.

*Disabled people who have ongoing problems or concerns with universal credit or have had problems in the last couple of months, and are interested in a potential legal challenge on these or other grounds, can contact Svetlana Kotova at Inclusion London by emailing: Svetlana.Kotova@inclusionlondon.org.uk although Inclusion London cannot offer advice on individual claims.

6 December 2018

 

 

UN day of disabled people: De Cordova close to tears over Commons access failure

A disabled shadow minister told activists she was on the verge of tears after House of Commons authorities provided them with an inaccessible meeting room for an event being held to celebrate the UN’s international day of disabled people.

Marsha de Cordova is to write to the Commons speaker to raise her concerns about access problems at Monday’s event, which she was hosting and was organised by the TUC disabled workers’ committee, Unite the union and Disabled People Against Cuts.

The day after the event, parliament was congratulated by the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, for being “Disability Confident”, under the government’s discredited disability employment scheme, which her press office said was “a sign of its commitment to being inclusive and open to all”.

As well as problems with microphones, and fixed furniture which made it difficult for disabled people to move around the Commons committee room, wheelchair-users who were due to address the meeting on Monday were unable to reach the platform.

Most of the main speakers, including the chair, Sean McGovern, were forced to speak from a small, cramped space in front of the platform or from other parts of the room, while one wheelchair-user ended up having to speak into a microphone with her back to the meeting because of the lack of space.

The meeting had originally been scheduled to take place in an accessible room in the more modern Portcullis House but had to be moved to make way for a select committee meeting.

De Cordova told them she had been assured by the parliamentary authorities “that there would be no access issues” with the replacement room.

She said: “I wanted to make sure that everyone’s experience, including my experience, was smooth and it was a positive experience so accept my apologies that on this UN day of the rights of disabled people, parliament is still getting it wrong.”

She said the failure was “unacceptable” and added: “I feel like I want to cry, I am so flipping angry at what they have done.”

McGovern, co-chair of the disabled workers’ committee, said after the meeting that he was “not at all happy” with the access arrangements, particularly as the meeting had taken place on the UN international day of disabled people, and he added: “Parliament isn’t fit for our needs.”

A House of Commons spokesman said: “We are very sorry to hear about the problems which Ms de Cordova and attendees at her event experienced when visiting parliament.

As part of parliament’s core democratic function, select committee business takes precedence over other events which occasionally [results] in private bookings being moved at short notice.

On this occasion, the specific requirements were clearly not taken into consideration and this was unacceptable. Action will be taken to ensure that it does not happen again.”

He said the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Digital Service had both signed up to Disability Confident, while the House of Commons worked with the Business Disability Forum and had appointed a workplace adjustment advisor “to be a designated point of contact for members and their staff throughout their time in parliament”.

In February, a disabled peer told the House of Lords that plans for a major “restoration and renewal” of the Houses of Parliament must ensure a “step change” in the provision of disability access in a building that could be “extremely unwelcoming” to disabled people.

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, president of the Liberal Democrats, said the newly-restored palace would have “failed” if it was not “truly accessible” to all disabled people.

She said that the building itself – and a “wider, unconscious cultural attitude” – could make the Houses of Parliament “extremely unwelcoming to disabled parliamentarians, staff and visitors”.

6 December 2018

 

 

DWP accused over ‘less than truthful’ Purple funding claims

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of misleading disabled people about its links to the disability organisation that organised a controversial accessible shopping event.

Disabled activists called last month for a boycott of Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first accessible shopping day, because of its close links with DWP, and concerns that CCTV footage of disabled people shopping could be used to dispute disability benefit claims.

When asked whether it had provided any funding for the Purple Tuesday initiative or to Purple itself, DWP said last month: “We have not provided funding to Purple but we have worked closely with them to facilitate Purple Tuesday and ensure it is a success.”

DWP also said that Purple “does not have any contract or agreement with DWP”.

But Disability News Service (DNS) has now established that both these statements were deeply misleading, while the first was untrue.

DWP has twice provided significant levels of funding to Purple – although not for Purple Tuesday – with the latest agreement for a programme run through the local jobcentre ending on 31 July and separate funding for a government disability employment programme ending in August 2017.

Disability Labour said it was “appalled, but not surprised” at the links between DWP and Purple.

Wayne Blackburn, co-chair of Disability Labour, said: “It seems the DWP’s statements about its relationship with the Purple organisation have been less than truthful.

We will be seeking to get this matter raised in the House of Commons.”

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, added: “Any organisation led by disabled people that takes money from the DWP betrays disabled people.

That is why we campaigned and will continue to campaign against Purple Tuesday.

How can Purple be proud to work with the DWP, who have persecuted disabled people and caused the deaths of so many?” 

Purple said last month that it had received “not one penny” from DWP for the Purple Tuesday campaign, which was “not government-led or involved or paid for in any shape or form”.

Mike Adams, Purple’s chief executive, confirmed this week that the organisation had received DWP funding, but not for Purple Tuesday.

He said he was comfortable that what he said last month was accurate but was “frustrated” that DWP’s statements “could have been seen as misleading”.

He said: “Purple Tuesday has not received one penny of government funding. Never has and never will and it is not a government campaign.

The minister [Sarah Newton] likes it [but] they don’t own it, its not theirs.

Separately, and very separate to Purple Tuesday, Purple has received funding for other… projects or initiatives from DWP.

I’m comfortable in what I told you last month is absolutely crystal clear and I am comfortable that what [DWP] told you was correct, but I understand why it could have been seen as misleading.”

He said he was “frustrated” that questions were being unfairly asked of Purple, and he said he was “very proud” of the work Purple did on those two projects for DWP, and its work on Purple Tuesday.

In the wake of last month’s event, DNS had submitted a freedom of information request to DWP, asking how much funding had been given by DWP to Purple in each of the last three years.

It admitted in response: “We do hold information falling within the terms of your request.”

But it said it was delaying its response because it was considering seeking an exemption under section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act*.

DWP refused to answer questions about its funding of Purple this week.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “I’ve checked with colleagues on this and you’ll be getting the full response shortly [from the DWP freedom of information team] so I’m unable to pre-empt this.”

Adams said he was “surprised” that DWP had not spoken to him about the concerns this week.

He said: “I’m frustrated that DWP didn’t speak to me and agree that we could release the information. I don’t think it’s commercially in confidence.”

Purple is a community interest company which replaced the former Essex Coalition of Disabled People, which itself had become known as ecdp.

Many of Purple’s board members are disabled people, and the organisation provides training for employers, and works with disabled people to find jobs, recruit personal assistants and manage their direct payments.

As well as running Purple Tuesday, it also charges up to £10,000 to help other organisations become accredited under DWP’s Disability Confident employment scheme.

*Section 43 (2) relates to information that could prejudice an organisation’s commercial interests, and DWP says it will now consider if maintaining this exemption is outweighed by the public interest in disclosing the information

6 December 2018

 

 

UN day of disabled people: Temporary election access fund ‘must be just a first step’

The government has finally launched a new temporary fund that will support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office, but only for the next 15 months.

The Government Equalities Office (GEO) said the EnAble “interim” fund would provide £250,000 to help cover the disability-related expenses of standing for elected office.

The EnAble Fund for Elected Office (EFEO) will go live in January and will end in March 2020, covering expenses such as British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares.

The funding is likely to be used by candidates for May’s local elections and police and crime commissioner elections in May 2020, although a GEO spokeswoman said that its use by prospective candidates for a general election would also be considered if one was called.

But there has been no guarantee that there will be any further funding post-March 2020, with the department’s focus apparently on working with political parties to make their own policies and procedures accessible to disabled candidates.

The fund is being administered by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), which will be paid £75,000 by the Local Government Association (LGA) for about 18 months’ work.

The interim fund replaces the Access to Elected Office Fund, which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years.

The new funding was first announced in May after lawyers for three disabled politicians – Labour’s Emily Brothers, Liberal Democrat David Buxton and the Green party’s Simeon Hart – wrote to the government to warn that the government had breached the Equality Act by failing to reopen the Access to Elected Office Fund.

They said they had effectively been unable to stand as candidates in a general election since the government froze the fund.

Buxton this week welcomed the launch of the new interim fund, even though it was only open for 15 months, and he said he was glad it would be administered by a disabled people’s organisation, which would be “able to understand the barriers we face”.

But he said there was “still a lot of room for improvement”, with “no long term solution” and the delays in launching the new fund meaning there were now just six months until May’s local elections.

He said the experience in Scotland, where the Scottish government has set up its own Access to Elected Office Fund, showed that the longer potential candidates had to secure financial support with disability-related expenses before an election, the more successful such a fund would be.

Brothers welcomed the announcement as a “first step”, but she said the funding was “insufficient and short term” and “fragmented”.

She said: “I have concerns that EnAble is being set up so close to the next local elections, with selections well in hand and only six months to polling day.

The LGA and DR UK will need to get their act together very quickly, but for many disabled people it may well be too late.”

She added: “I believe a permanently resourced Access to Elected Office Fund needs to be established to support the participation of disabled people in political and public life.

The representation of disabled people is woeful, our voices are not being heard and consequently laws, policy and practices persist in failing to meet our needs and aspirations. That has to change.”

Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “The new fund is a drop in the ocean.  

Funds also need to be made available to political parties and providers of premises where political meetings are held for reasonable adjustments to be made.

Premises are often inaccessible and this needs to change.

For example, funding for hearing loops, ramps, sign language interpreters need to be provided through a central fund which facilitates access to the political process as a whole.” 

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of DR UK, said: “Around 10 per cent of local councillors are disabled, but around 20 per cent of adults are disabled.

This fund will provide practical help and support to try and close that gap. Help with issues like transport, assistive technology or sign language interpreters can make a significant difference on whether to stand for elected office if you’re disabled.

We hope this is the beginning of something which will see funding increase, and broaden in scope, so that disabled people can get more involved in public life; from being a local councillor to becoming a member of parliament.

And we hope – and expect – to see political parties do much more to encourage their disabled members to stand for office.

Political parties across the spectrum have a poor track record when it comes to selecting and supporting disabled candidates.

They should be doing better, and the establishment of this fund is a reminder of that.”

Announcing the new funding on Monday, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, said: “Everyone has the right to stand and represent their community – and it is vital no-one is held back.

Empowering people with disabilities leads to better decisions and more effective outcomes for all of us.                                                       

Unless every one of our citizens can reach their full potential our nation never will.”

6 December 2018

 

 

UN day of disabled people: Cycling benefit fears, public appointments review, and a new ODI network

Half of disabled cyclists fear having their benefits cut or removed if they are seen to be physically active, according to a survey released on the UN’s international day of disabled people.

The results of the survey of more than 200 disabled cyclists by the disabled people’s organisation Wheels for Wellbeing showed that of the 49 per cent who were concerned about their benefits, one in six (17 per cent) had been discouraged from cycling, cycled less or given up cycling altogether.

Only two months ago, a report by the disability sports organisation Activity Alliance found that four-fifths (83 per cent) of disabled people surveyed would like to be more active, but nearly half (47 per cent) feared losing their benefits if they took more exercise.

Isabelle Clement, director of Wheels for Wellbeing, said: “For disabled people, cycling is a wonderful thing because it mitigates the effects of impairment and enables you to move freely over long distances, improving your overall wellbeing in the process.”

But she said that cycling doesn’t “make your impairment magically disappear” and so to “penalise people because they use a cycle to move around, as well as or instead of a wheelchair say, is just lazy and discriminatory”.

She called on the Department for Work and Pensions to clarify its position on how disability benefits are affected by cycling.

The Wheels for Wellbeing survey was just one of a string of events and publications held and released on the international day on Monday (3 December).

The disabled peer Lord [Chris] Holmes published a review which calls for “urgent action” to tackle the under-representation of disabled people in appointments to public bodies such as NHS organisations, national museums and regulatory and advisory bodies.

He said it was shocking that, last year, just three per cent of people who had previously been appointed to public bodies described themselves as disabled, although the figures are slowly improving, with 6.9 per cent of new appointments who shared their status in 2017-18 reporting that they were disabled.

The Tory peer called for an interim target of 11.3 per cent of all public appointees to be disabled people, while he also called for “reliable, consistent, comprehensive” data on how many disabled public appointees there were, for the government to take “innovative” approaches to recruitment, and for a more accessible applications process.

He suggested there should be less reliance on panel interviews and more open processes such as the use of shadowing current appointees, holding mock board meetings, and making better use of technology, with new efforts to attract and nurture disabled talent, for example by using mentors and role models.

The government makes more than 1,000 appointments to the boards of more than 500 public bodies every year, with those organisations spending more than £200 billion of public money.

Meanwhile, the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) used the UN international day to announce that the government was setting up a new network of “regional stakeholders” who will organise forums for organisations and individuals in nine regions across England.

The forums are intended to “provide a channel for disabled people and their organisations to share their views and experiences about policies and services that affect them and will complement stakeholder relationships that already exist across government”.

ODI said it would publish more information about how to join the regional stakeholder network “shortly”.

The forums appear to be a replacement for the Fulfilling Potential Forum, the Disability Action Alliance and the Fulfilling Potential Policy Advice Service, all of which were set up by the coalition government but have either been scrapped or fallen into disuse.

The minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, also announced that the government was looking for six new “champions” to tackle some of the issues disabled people face as consumers.

The six individuals will be asked to use their influential status as leaders in their own industries to promote the benefits of being inclusive to disabled people across fashion, technology, countryside and heritage, website accessibility, food and drink, and product design.

They will join 14 existing sector champions in areas such as airports, banking, insurance, live music, retail and tourism.

The disabled-led arts organisation Together! 2012, based in east London, announced on Monday that it had been awarded nearly £230,000 lottery funding that will allow it to expand its Clubs creative development programme for disabled people over the three years from 2019.

Together! also held a live-streamed reading of the easy-read version of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, at Beckton Globe Library.

As part of their celebrations of the day, York Independent Living Network and York Human Rights City Network organised a live video link that brought together students from York and Urbino in Italy who had won prizes in this year’s Eleanor Worthington Prize to talk about their work and celebrate the day.

Elsewhere on the UN international day, the Centre for Disability Studies and the Centre for Law and Social Justice at the University of Leeds held a screening of Sanctuary, an award-winning film which follows the relationship between two people with learning difficulties.

The screening was followed by a question and answer session with the director, Len Collin, the university’s Professor Gerard Quinn, and representatives of CHANGE, the Leeds-based, disabled-led organisation that focuses on the human rights of people with learning difficulties.

In London, Merton Centre for Independent Living released a series of short films on independent living.

And in Liverpool, as part of the DaDaFest international disability arts festival, which ends on Saturday, Disability Arts Online held a panel discussion, asking: “Are we in an era post Disability Art?”

6 December 2018

 

 

Disabled peer calls for ‘heavy fines’ for air travel access failures

A disabled crossbench peer has called on the government to start handing out “heavy fines” to the air travel industry when it fails to ensure that its services are accessible to disabled passengers.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell asked the government on Monday what action it was taking to encourage all UK airports to provide appropriate facilities for disabled people.

Another disabled peer described how she was left in tears after being dumped in a corner facing a concrete wall while airport staff tried to find her wheelchair.

Baroness Campbell pointed to the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) third annual report into the assistance provided at the UK’s biggest airports, which said that one in 10 of those surveyed had described the quality of assistance provided in 2017-18 as “very poor”.

Baroness Campbell said: “Examples include being left in a wheelchair, being left on an aeroplane, expensive wheelchairs being broken and, in my case, being left on an aeroplane for two hours because they refused to bring my chair to the plane door.

In the light of this, can the minister assure the house that the government’s aviation strategy will contain more stringent ways to address this outrageous discrimination with more than just guidance and regulations that we know do not work?

Will she also tell me how many disabled people were involved in developing the strategy?”

Baroness Sugg, the junior transport minister, failed to say how many disabled people were involved in the strategy, but she said it was due to be published “in the coming weeks”, and promised that it would address these issues.

She said the CAA survey results were “obviously not good enough”.

She added: “The green paper will propose a passenger charter, which will clarify what can be expected from airlines, airports and airside services, including on wheelchair damage and waiting times, and will improve the standards of service for passengers with reduced mobility.”

Within three hours of asking her questions, Baroness Campbell had been contacted by the Airport Operators Association, seeking a meeting to discuss the issues she had raised.

She said on Twitter: “Is a ‘government charter’ enough? Surely it’s time to enforce the regulations with heavy fines?”

Another disabled peer, the Liberal Democrat president, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, told the minister how when she arrived on a flight from Heathrow to Madrid last month she was told her wheelchair was missing.

She said: “I was then passed from pillar to post and was dumped in a corner facing a concrete wall by staff who were trying to sort out what was going on.

I ended up in tears while they tried to find my wheelchair.

If this were an unusual occurrence, it would be horrific, but it is not.

What is even more horrific is that this happens every day to air passengers.

Charters butter no parsnips: when will the regulations be enforced to stop air travel being a ghetto for disabled people?”

Baroness Sugg told her: “She is absolutely right that these occurrences happen far too often, and that is what we need to change.

Today is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and it is important that we as a country continue to work with international forums to promote greater accessibility to air travel for those with reduced mobility.”

She said the government was “working closely with the aviation industry, the CAA, wheelchair manufacturers and disability organisations to achieve the long-term goal of enabling wheelchair-users to travel with their own airworthy wheelchair on a plane”.

Following the questions she asked in the Lords, Baroness Campbell was contacted on Twitter by a string of other disabled people sharing their own experiences of airport and airline inaccessibility and discriminatory attitudes.

One fellow disabled peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, told her: “I’ve had the pilot tell the plane that we’re leaving late because of ‘having to board a wheelchair’.

Thanks. Actually I was there early. It was the assistance team that wasn’t.”

Another to share her experience was Sophie Christiansen, the eight-time Paralympic gold-medallist, who shared an experience from last week.

She described how she arrived at an airport at the end of a flight, and said: “Every time recently I’ve had to ask someone for my chair back as they’ve been sitting in it. This is like a stranger wearing your shoes.”

And Anna Severwright, co-chair of the Coalition for Collaborative Care, told Baroness Campbell: “Let’s hope they are willing to listen and change.

Both my experiences of flying with my electric wheelchair were negative and very stressful. Puts me off wanting to fly. Thanks for trying to improve things.”

6 December 2018

 

 

UN day of disabled people: Historic document throws light on birth of movement

A key document that helped many disabled activists develop their understanding of how they were being oppressed by society more than 40 years ago has been published for the first time.

The document, Are We Oppressed?, was compiled in 1974 by Vic Finkelstein, one of the pioneers of the disabled people’s movement, and it played a significant part in the development of what was later described as the social model of disability.

It was developed through discussions among members of the newly-formed and radical Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) and came from circulars issued by post to members every few weeks.

Two years before the document was drawn up, Finkelstein helped found UPIAS with Paul Hunt, who had spent much of his life in Leonard Cheshire residential homes and campaigned against institutional discrimination.

The 2018 edition of Are We Oppressed? includes a new introduction written by Judy Hunt – Paul Hunt’s widow – and UPIAS member Maggie Davis, who herself was a significant figure in the development of the movement.

It was published this week on 3 December, the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

The document has been prepared, with their support, by Tony Baldwinson, whose wife Lorraine Gradwell, who died last year, was another UPIAS member and later a founding member of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP).

Baldwinson pulled the new version of the document together from old stapled cuttings and Finkelstein’s typed and handwritten slips of paper.

Preserving the UPIAS papers is part of a wider archiving project by GMCDP.

Are We Oppressed? includes a series of influential comments by Finkelstein, often described as the father of the social model, as well as responses from other UPIAS members, although their comments have been anonymised.

Among Finkelstein’s comments, he told fellow members: “At the outset of starting our new organisation we must be sure and in total agreement about one thing – Disabled people are oppressed in our society.

There should be no confusion about this, nor should this fact be far from our minds.”

The oppression faced by disabled people forced to live in institutions was also key to his arguments, with Finkelstein telling members: “The future will look back on the anti-institution struggles of today, as we look back on the anti-slavery struggles.”

In another circular, he said that “1970s society has already reached the stage where the technological solutions are at hand for full integration of physically impaired members of society.

The fact that this is not done is because of the oppressive nature of the society (in the way it is organised).”

He also told UPIAS members: “However, I suggest that the real reason for our oppression (as for all other oppressed groups) is in the way society is organised (the socio-political causes).

Our struggle, therefore, is with this system of rules. When we struggle against this, we also struggle against all those who defend and administer them.”

And, in a comment that is likely to be seized on by members of today’s disabled people’s anti-cuts movement, he warned: “In economic crises, when competition is increased, we are amongst the first to suffer (together with the other oppressed groups).

This means the struggle against the competitive rules of our society has to continue until these are changed.”

Although his ideas were taken on and played a significant part in the foundation of the disabled people’s movement in the UK and the social model of disability, some members questioned his radical tone, with some of their comments likely to be viewed today as disablist.

One responded: “I’m worried a little as to our situation – I mean how radical are we going to be?

Are we to sit in the streets waving placards, chanting thereby attracting publicity as a curiosity value – a freak show?

Demos in our case ought to be out. We are not going to convince the general public that to be disabled doesn’t mean mental backwardness if we exhibit ourselves in an undignified manner.”

Judy Hunt told Disability News Service this week that she had passed huge amounts of UPIAS material to Baldwinson for his archiving work, which included two copies of Are We Oppressed?

She said she believed the document “still has a value” because so much of what Finkelstein said was still relevant today.

She said: “He argued people through it. It was a process people in the union were going through at the time.

People had been socialised into trying to present themselves in a dignified manner because they had enough problems with all the ways people treated disabled people, and the attitudes that were around, the very real prejudices that were around and the hostility.”

She said she believed that disabled people were still oppressed.

I think they are. What’s happening now is a lot of things stripping back, and people being forced into institutions again because they cannot get the support in the community.

They are having their benefits cut so a lot of people are going to be struggling just to survive at home.

They are not being allowed to participate as full citizens in many cases.

There’s a much more mixed picture now. On the one hand there are people able to get to university and going into mainstream schooling and go and get jobs and get careers.

But on the converse, people are losing their benefits and there is a real danger of institutionalisation again and it’s happening for some people, and in education too… with disabled children having difficulty getting access to mainstream schooling.

We are not over that yet at all. There is quite a long way to go.”

6 December 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:19
Nov 292018
 

 

DWP softens ‘threatening’ tone of universal credit agreement after claimant’s death

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been forced to soften the “threatening” tone of the agreement that claimants of universal credit are forced to sign to receive their benefits, following a secret review into the death of a claimant.

A panel of DWP civil servants called for the threatening wording of the claimant commitment to be toned down after carrying out an internal process review (IPR) of the circumstances around the death.

The review panel concluded: “The references to sanctions and amount of money that will be lost seems excessive (mentioned eight times).

The panel advises that a better balance could be struck in reminding a client of the consequences of not meeting their obligations and not appearing to be overtly threatening, especially to individuals who are vulnerable.”

This was among 12 sets of recommendations that resulted from 50 IPRs carried out between April 2016 and June 2018, 33 of which involved a benefit claimant who had died.

Four of those who died were universal credit claimants.

Following a freedom of information request from Disability News Service (DNS), DWP has now released brief information to show what action it took in response to the 12 sets of recommendations.

The DWP response states that the universal credit claimant commitment now “makes no reference to sanctions”.

Although the claimant commitment does appear to have been substantially softened in its and references to sanctions, DNS has seen one from February this year that still includes a single sanction threat, warning: “Your Universal Credit payments will be reduced if you do not do the things in your commitment and do not have a good reason. This is called a payment ‘sanction’.”

It is not known when DWP made the changes to the claimant commitment, when the claimant died or how that death was connected to the threatening nature of the document he or she was obliged to sign.

But one universal credit claimant has spoken out this week about the continuing “punitive” nature of the claimant commitment.

She told DNS how she attempted suicide earlier this year after her benefits had been withdrawn and she then faced eviction following months without income.

Her benefits had been withdrawn after she had refused to sign a claimant commitment she knew she would be unable to keep to because of its strict job search conditions.

She has since been found not fit for work through a work capability assessment (WCA) and her current claimant commitment makes no mention of job-seeking, but she says she still finds the language in the guidance section “punitive”.

She said: “Whether or not the DWP have ‘toned down’ the punitive language of the claimant commitment, there is still a very strong message that a) work always pays and b) the DWP will be watching very closely to make sure you don’t try to fiddle the system in any way.

I and many others are so afraid of DWP sanctions and the hardship this could cause that they could promise us ponies and rainbows in that claimant commitment but we would still live in fear.

We’ve internalised that fear, which was exactly what the DWP intended.”

This week, DWP refused to answer a series of questions about the claimant commitment and why the changes to make it less threatening had been made.

It refused to say whether the changes were made as a result of the IPR recommendations; when the changes were made; whether DWP now accepted that the claimant commitment was previously too threatening; whether it accepted that the threatening nature of the claimant commitment may have played a part in the death of the claimant examined by the IPR; and why its freedom of information response was apparently misleading.

Instead, a DWP spokesman said: “The DWP has a responsibility to inform all claimants of the implications of not keeping to a commitment.

Claimants are rightly informed of this throughout the process of creating their Claimant Commitment.

But the final Claimant Commitment does not directly refer to sanctions, other than containing a link highlighting where more information is held.

Through our ‘test and learn’ approach, we have listened to feedback from stakeholders and claimants and regularly make improvements to Universal Credit.”

Earlier this month, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, warned that universal credit could “wreak havoc” and had created a “digital barrier” that prevented many disabled people and other disadvantaged groups from accessing the support they were entitled to.

He said the government’s “test and learn” approach to universal credit risked treating such groups “like guinea pigs” and that the preparations being made by local authorities and charities for the rollout of universal credit had “resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic”.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “rotten to the core” with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.

In June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.

And in July, employment minister Alok Sharma was asked by MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee why the benefits of hundreds of sick and disabled universal credit claimants were apparently being sanctioned, even though they should not have had to meet any of the strict conditions imposed by the system.

In the same month, further concerns were raised by the committee about disabled people with high support needs who have to claim universal credit and face the possibility of strict conditions – such as being forced to carry out hours of job searches every week – as they wait for a work capability assessment.

29 November 2018

 

 

Minister appears unprepared for impact of ‘no deal’ Brexit on social care

The health and social care secretary appears to have accidentally confessed to having no plans for dealing with the worsening social care recruitment crisis that is almost certain to hit the UK if the country is forced into a no-deal Brexit.

Matt Hancock was asked by a committee of MPs on Tuesday about the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union (EU) next March without agreeing a deal with the other 27 members.

The prospect of a no-deal Brexit, although still unlikely, is looking increasingly possible as a result of the seemingly intractable parliamentary deadlock over the UK’s planned exit from the EU next March.

Disabled people, including those who use personal assistants (PAs), have warned repeatedly of the risk that any form of Brexit could mean their access to PAs from EU countries could dry up, with a no-deal Brexit making this even more likely.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell told peers last year that John Evans, one of the founders of the UK independent living movement, had employed PAs from 15 EU countries in the past 34 years.

He had told her that if the government failed to protect access to the EU’s huge pool of people keen to work as PAs in the UK, he would lose his ability to live independently and could be forced to return to residential care, 34 years after he was liberated from a Cheshire Home.

But Hancock’s evidence this week to the Commons health and social care committee, and subsequent statements by his press office, appear to show that he has no plans in place for dealing with a social care recruitment crisis if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal next spring.

Labour’s Diana Johnson had asked Hancock: “If we have a no deal scenario, what is your policy for recruitment to social care in the future?

How are you going to deal with that?”

Hancock, who also confirmed later that he still plans to publish the government’s long-awaited adult social care green paper by the end of the year, told the committee in response that there was a higher proportion of people working in social care in the UK who were from outside the EU than from EU countries.

But his only answer to how he would cope with the impact of a no-deal Brexit on social care recruitment appeared to be to “train people locally and give people from the UK opportunities to work in social care” and to make sure “it is yet more of a rewarding career”.

He said: “I think these things are all part of trying to make sure that social care can give the dignity that it ought to.

It’s something that we care a lot about getting right.”

A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokeswoman said afterwards: “We are confident of reaching a deal with the EU which benefits our health and care workforce.

We want to promote adult social care as a career of choice and are launching a national recruitment campaign in the new year to raise the image and profile of the sector.

Our upcoming green paper will also look at how we can recruit and retain a valued workforce.”

DHSC was due to launch a pilot scheme today (Thursday) to provide the 104,000 EU nationals working in social care in the UK with an opportunity to apply early to the government’s EU settlement scheme.

But the DHSC spokeswoman also said that that recruitment campaign and the green paper were “going ahead regardless of whether or not we get a deal and both aim to help with recruitment and retention”.

She refused to confirm that there were no extra plans in place for social care recruitment in the event of a no-deal Brexit, although DHSC has now been given several opportunities to explain what they might be if they did exist.

Hancock had told the committee that it was easier now to recruit people into social care because of the introduction of the government’s “national living wage”, which had led to workers in the sector receiving “some of the fastest pay rises” across the economy as so many of them were previously only being paid the minimum wage.

Hancock had said that it was “important to plan for all eventualities” and so his department was planning for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit’s impact on the NHS although it did not think that was likely to happen.

He said: “A no-deal scenario for the NHS will be difficult but we are confident that if everybody does everything that they need to do then we will have an unhindered supply of medicines.

We can make sure that we get the talent that we need from around the world and we can have a medicine and medical devices regulation system that can provide for access to the best new medicines.”

He added: “As a contingency we prepare for all eventualities, including no-deal, and no-deal clearly is the one that makes life… for which we have to do the most preparation.”

The committee had earlier heard from Mark Dayan, a policy and public affairs analyst at Nuffield Trust, that a no-deal Brexit would likely cause “quite a big problem for social care” because of the sector’s current reliance on EU workers, and because it has to compete for workers with other low-paid sectors in the UK economy.

He said the government would have “total freedom” with its immigration policy in such a situation and so could keep allowing people who want to work in social care into the country but he said that “all the indications we have are that that will not be the case and that there will be strong impediments to workers with lower salaries and lower qualifications”.

He told Johnson: “The social care sector is in an extremely weak position to start raising wages to try and bring in a bigger share of a pool that is not growing as quickly, so I think you are absolutely right to flag that up as a concern.

For me it’s a bigger one actually than the [impact of a no-deal Brexit on the] NHS workforce.”

29 November 2018

 

 

DWP admits failing to keep track of disability discrimination claims by its own staff

The government department responsible for running the Disability Confident employment scheme has admitted failing to keep track of how many complaints of disability discrimination are made by its own staff.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) repeatedly brags about its much-criticised scheme, which aims to help employers recruit and retain disabled employees, and it claims itself to be a Disability Confident “Leader”, the highest of the scheme’s three levels.

But last month Disability News Service (DNS) reported how the Employment Tribunal had dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against DWP by its own staff over a 20-month period.

Now a freedom of information response to DNS from the department has revealed that it has been failing to track how many complaints by staff through its internal grievance system are based on allegations of disability discrimination.

It says in the response: “DWP’s central [human resources] system records the number of grievances made by DWP employees each year; however it does not record disability discrimination as a discrete category of grievance.”

It says in the response that it “treats complaints of Disability Discrimination very seriously and would always rigorously investigate such a complaint”.

But Dr Minh Alexander, a former consultant psychiatrist and NHS whistleblower whose research led to the DWP tribunal figures, said the failure to track disability-related grievances showed “incompetence and disinterest”.

She said: “If DWP don’t track disability-related grievances, they can’t know if a greater proportion of disabled employees are filing grievances, and therefore potentially experiencing worse treatment. Not so Disability Confident!!”

And David Gillon, a prominent disabled critic of the Disability Confident scheme, said it was “extraordinary that DWP does not keep systematic track of internal disability discrimination”.

He said: “This would be unbelievably lackadaisical in a small or medium-sized company; it is difficult to comprehend in an organisation the size of DWP that is not just a Disability Confident Leader, but the organisation that defines Disability Confident.

The failure to track this information demonstrates a comprehensive failure to follow DWP’s obligations under Disability Confident for both employee retention and ongoing improvement.

If DWP is not gathering this information, and therefore is clearly not compliant with its Disability Confident Leader certification, then shouldn’t DWP’s certification be withdrawn?”

But he also pointed out that there was no mechanism within the flawed Disability Confident scheme to assess whether a Disability Confident organisation was meeting its membership obligations.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) suggested that DWP should have been monitoring how many disability-related grievances it was dealing with.

An EHRC spokeswoman said: “Appropriate data collection is essential in uncovering and understanding discrepancies in any workplace.

Whilst collecting data on disability discrimination cases specifically is not a requirement of the [Equality Act’s] public sector equality duty, it would be a beneficial way of monitoring how an organisation is performing against its obligations.”

A DWP spokeswoman said the department takes “active steps to promote equality” and that the complaints system – provided by a third party – had now been “updated to capture categories of grievances”, a step apparently taken in the days after the freedom of information response was sent to DNS on 22 November.

According to information provided to DNS by the department, DWP has also altered its policies only this year to ensure that employees found to have bullied, harassed or discriminated against a colleague are dealt with under its disciplinary procedures.

It is due to make further changes next month to make it easier for employees to report such behaviour and to make anonymous reporting easier.

Meanwhile, Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, has launched a new voluntary framework that aims to encourage employers to report how many of their staff consider themselves to be disabled or to have a long-term physical or mental health condition.

It came as she hosted a roundtable at Downing Street with businesses such as Barclays, Channel 4 and KPMG, and disabled employees, to discuss “what more companies can do to build inclusive workforces”.

29 November 2018

 

 

Watchdog calls on government to act ‘before it’s too late’ on impact of cuts

The equality watchdog has called on the government to “do something before it’s too late”, after its own research showed UK government reforms will cut the living standards of disabled people with the highest support needs in England by more than 10 per cent.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report says that the “disproportionate” impact of spending cuts on disabled people – and other disadvantaged groups – shows the UK government has breached the principle of non-discrimination laid out in international human rights treaties.

The Cumulative Impact on Living Standards of Public Spending Changes looks at the impact of changes in England, Scotland and Wales from 2010-11 – when the coalition government came to power – until 2021-22.

It concludes that the impact of cuts to public spending per head of population in areas such health, social care, public transport and housing (through changes in the value of the public services they use) will have a much more significant impact on households in England than on those in Scotland and Wales.

Overall, public spending per head is forecast to fall by around 18 per cent in England, 5.5 per cent in Wales and just over one per cent in Scotland, with particularly heavy falls on spending per head on higher and further education in England and Wales and on social housing in England.

But the impact of public spending changes over those 11 years on disabled people in England is also much more significant – largely because of social care cuts – with households with people with six or more significant impairments in total experiencing losses of more than £2,900 per year, compared to such households in Wales losing less than £800, and those in Scotland actually gaining by almost £100 a year.

The new report, carried out for EHRC by Landman Economics and Aubergine Analysis, also combines the new figures with research it published earlier this year on the overall impact of tax, national insurance, social security and minimum wage reforms on disabled people and other groups.

It concludes that the overall impact of all of these austerity reforms will see those households with disabled people with the highest support needs losing 10.5 per cent of their “final income” (including the value of the public services they use), compared with similar households in Scotland losing 4.5 per cent of their final income and those in Wales losing just under five per cent.

The report concludes that the differences between the three countries are partly because of faster population growth in England, but also due to different spending priorities, and more generous funding in Scotland resulting from the Scottish government’s own income tax rises.

EHRC said the figures – and the different impacts in Wales and Scotland – showed that “neither the overall scale of spending cuts in England, nor their precise impact on protected groups, was inevitable”.

EHRC called on the UK government, as well as those in Scotland and Wales, to mitigate the effects of the cuts by increasing spending in areas such as universal credit, health, social care, education and social housing.

It also called for the next major spending announcements of the three governments to include equality impact assessments, including cumulative assessments that would show how the overall packages of measures would impact on groups such as disabled people.

And the commission said the three governments should explain how these spending measures would comply with their duties as public sector bodies under the Equality Act (through the public sector equality duty).

Rebecca Hilsenrath, EHRC’s chief executive, said: “We know that some communities are being left behind and that the gap is widening.

We know we need to do something before it’s too late and we’ve shown that it’s possible to assess public spending decisions to see if we can make the impact fairer.

Our latest research has found that welfare reforms, coupled with changes in other spending such as on transport, housing and health, have a disproportionate effect on disabled people, children and young people, women and certain ethnic minorities.

This impact needs to be mitigated to ensure that everyone can have a fair chance in life and realise their right to an adequate standard of living.”

The Treasury failed to comment on the EHRC report by 10am this morning (Thursday).

29 November 2018

 

 

Ombudsman warns of sharp rise in complaints about care charges

An ombudsman has warned of the sharp rise in complaints he has received about how local authorities in England are charging disabled people for their care and support.

Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said there had been a nine per cent increase in complaints about adult social care charging over the last 12 months.

There was also a sharp rise in complaints about direct payments (an increase of 13 per cent) and a smaller increase in complaints about assessment and care planning (a 1.4 per cent rise), comparing 2016-17 and 2017-18.

The ombudsman warned that the complaints he was dealing with on adult social care were no longer just “one-off mistakes” but were increasingly about the “systems and policies” of local authorities.

He said he had become “increasingly concerned” about the way some local authorities were “handling the need to balance the pressures they are under with the way they assess and charge for care”.

In his annual review of social care complaints, King said he had been upholding two-thirds (67 per cent) of complaints about charging, which was higher than the rate for adult social care (62 per cent), and for all complaints the ombudsman investigates (57 per cent).

He said: “Assessment and care planning, and how care is paid for, remain some of the biggest areas of complaint.

Even more concerning is that the issues we see demonstrate a shift from one-off mistakes to problems with whole systems and policies, or procedures being incorrectly applied.

Adult social care has seen sustained high levels of complaints upheld compared to our general work.

We know authorities are operating under an enormous amount of pressure and financial challenge to deliver care services.

The stark reality of this is now playing out in the complaints we see.”

The Local Government Association refused to comment on the ombudsman’s criticism of local authorities’ care charging policies and performance.

The ombudsman’s report comes just two weeks after a report from the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG) found that charging disabled people for their care and support was driving many of them into debt and forcing them to cut their spending on food or heating.

The ILSG study found that four in 10 (41 per cent) of those responding to a survey had experienced a substantial increase in charges over the last couple of years.

Jenny Morris, an ILSG member, said: “The increase in complaints to the ombudsman about charging for care and support comes as no surprise to the Independent Living Strategy Group.  

Our survey found that many people are facing substantial increases in charges, many are cutting back on essentials like food and heating, and some are forced into debt.  

The Care Act was all about ensuring people’s well-being but charges are effectively a tax on disability and old age and are having a negative impact on well-being.” 

29 November 2018

 

 

Crossrail step-free promise looks set to be broken

The promise to disabled people that every station on London’s much-delayed, £15 billion Crossrail project would be step-free from the moment it opens looks increasingly likely to be broken.

Four years ago, a two-year campaign by disabled and older people led to promises by Transport for London (TfL) that every one of its stations would be step-free, at least from street to platform-level.

Disabled campaigners had been furious when they found out that seven of the Crossrail stations would not be accessible to wheelchair-users, but their campaigning led to further funding from TfL and the government to ensure that every one of the 41 stations would be step-free.

But Disability News Service has established this week that at least one of these stations is unlikely to be step-free by the time the new line finally opens next year, with question-marks over several others and contracts for some of the projects to install lifts still to be awarded.

Transport for All, the user-led organisation that campaigns on accessible transport in London, first raised concerns last week, saying on Twitter that the news that some stations could open without being fully accessible to disabled and older people was “totally unacceptable”.

Stage four of Crossrail – now renamed the Elizabeth line – which will see trains running into central London from Shenfield in Essex, is due to open in May next year.

But work by Network Rail to make Ilford and Romford stations step-free still does not have a completion date, while it is seeking funding from the government’s Access to All scheme to install a lift at one of the platforms at nearby Brentwood, due to “technical challenges”.

There are also question-marks over whether work being led by TfL to make Maryland, Manor Park and Seven Kings on this eastern branch step-free will be completed in time for its planned opening next spring.

Stage five of the scheme, with trains running from the west into central London, is also beset with delays, with the current date for opening now not likely until December 2019.

Work to make Acton Main Line, Hayes and Harlington, Southall, West Ealing, Ealing Broadway and West Drayton step-free has been delayed, with Network Rail unable to provide any completion dates for the work, although it says it is “underway”.

TfL work to install lifts at Hanwell, Iver, Langley and Taplow, on the same western stretch of the line, is also not due to be completed until the end of next year.

The central section of the line, with its 10 new stations and tunnels, has been delayed from next month until next autumn at the earliest, although all these new stations will be step-free from street-level to train when they eventually open.

Network Rail said the delays with step-free work were largely because “design work has taken longer than envisaged to incorporate the upgrades suggested by local authorities and communities”, while “some elements of the tender review process for the main ticket hall works have taken longer than expected as we seek to ensure maximum value for money for the public purse”.

A Network Rail spokesman added: “We do not yet know if there is a change to the target dates for Stage 4 (Shenfield into the central section) and Stage 5 (Reading into central section) so at this stage it is not possible to say what will be complete by the time the Elizabeth line actually opens.

A TfL spokeswoman said: “There were some issues with the design of lifts at stations in the east.

This, combined with the limited access time on stations to complete the work, has led to some delays in the delivery.

The vast majority of the work at the stations takes place during planned weekend closures throughout the year to enable staff to work safely.”

She added: “The Elizabeth line will completely transform the accessibility of the transport network for passengers across London and the south east.

All 41 stations will be step-free to platform level, staffed from first to last train, with a ‘turn up and go’ service offered to anyone needing assistance.

All of the parties involved – TfL, Network Rail, Crossrail Ltd and the Department for Transport – remain 100 per cent committed to delivering these benefits.

We continue to work closely with Network Rail, who are working to deliver vital accessibility improvements at some of the stations on the above-ground parts of the route to the east and west of the central section.”

29 November 2018

 

 

Action needed to make major roads more accessible, says watchdog

A transport watchdog is calling for action to make the network of major roads across England more accessible to disabled drivers and passengers.

A new Transport Focus report, An Accessible Road Network?, centres mainly on the barriers disabled people face in using roadside services, as well as the problems caused for some disabled drivers who become stuck in long traffic jams or whose vehicles break down.

Among the concerns raised by disabled people interviewed by Transport Focus was the difficulty of escaping their vehicle quickly and scaling the barrier at the side of the road after breaking down.

There were also concerns that breakdown and recovery staff were not trained to deal with disabled drivers and passengers and adapted vehicles.

The report says it is unclear if minimum training requirements are in place for breakdown and recovery services, and it calls for all such organisations to “review and improve the disability awareness training given to all their staff”.

Those interviewed also raised long-standing concerns about the difficulty of securing assistance to refuel vehicles at filling stations, with the report calling on petrol retailers to ensure they meet their obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

Disabled interviewees also said that services on ‘A’ roads often do not have accessible toilets, while there were also reports of those accessible toilets that were available being used to store bins or staff bicycles.

The report says there are currently only 20 Changing Places toilets – facilities with extra space and equipment for disabled people who cannot use standard accessible toilets – in place or planned at roadside services in England, just two of which are at ‘A’ road services.

It calls on the Department for Transport (DfT) to fulfil the pledge in its inclusive transport strategy that it would spend £2 million to support the installation of more Changing Places facilities in motorway services.

Among the report’s other recommendations is a call for the government to ensure that providers of roadside services allow more than two hours’ free parking for disabled drivers and passengers because they often need extra time.

And Transport Focus calls on DfT to carry out research to identify the number and location of driving instructors trained to help those with learning difficulties or hearing impairments, which would “enable an assessment to be made as to whether there are sufficient numbers in all parts of the country”.

There are also recommendations for Highways England, including a call for it to update and publicise information about the help available to disabled people who are caught in traffic jams and need urgent assistance, and who they should call if their vehicles break down.

There is also a call for Highways England – which runs England’s network of motorways and ‘A’ roads – to compile and maintain accurate information about facilities provided for disabled road-users at services on its roads.

And the report says that the companies that run roadside services should strengthen efforts to ensure that accessible parking spaces are only used by motorists with blue badges.

The report, published today (Thursday), was based on interviews with 50 disabled drivers and passengers, focus groups and interviews with service-providers and experts, including the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), which advises the government on transport access issues.

Helen Dolphin, a DPTAC member [but not speaking on behalf of the committee] and an independent mobility consultant, said: “Thanks to the Motability scheme and sophisticated car adaptations, many disabled people are able to drive and this means that the road network may need to make some changes to ensure disabled people can use the roads as safely as every other driver.”

Dolphin, herself a disabled driver, added: “I am therefore pleased that this report has highlighted many issues that I have been raising for many years and I sincerely hope that the recommendations put forward will be carried out.” 

DfT today (Thursday) announced a partnership with the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK to allocate the £2 million funding for new Changing Places toilets at motorway services, which will be installed in “the early 2020s”.

But a DfT spokeswoman also said that motorway services operators were required to provide up to two hours free parking and that charging for longer parking periods was “a commercial matter for the operators”.

She added: “Disabled people who need specially qualified driving instructions can speak to the Association of Disability Driving Instructors for impartial advice.

In the longer term, we recognise the need for further research to understand the barriers to transport that people with cognitive, behavioural and mental health conditions may face.

As outlined in our response to the consultation on the Accessibility Action Plan, we intend to proceed with this research by 2022.”

Highways England welcomed the Transport Focus report and said it would be launching a new National Mobility and Disabled Road User Forum next month, which it said would help inform its response to the recommendations.

It said it had already developed messages to display on electronic signs to “better inform road users about what is happening when they are caught up in incidents on our roads, specifically addressing the concerns of those trapped in traffic”.

It also said it would “refresh” disability-related training for its traffic officers and would “work with disability and mobility forums to define what information is important to road users, and how they want that information shared”.

A Highways England spokeswoman said: “We will work with operators to collect information about their roadside facilities, and will look at ways to publish it that reach the road users that need it.”

And she said the agency would engage with operators of services “to discuss how we can work together to consider areas raised in the research, such as extending parking times where appropriate, and the layout of service areas”.

She said Highways England was “already in discussions with DfT about enabling the construction of more Changing Places facilities at motorway service areas”, while operators of services had been “actively engaging with Highways England about existing provision, usage and future funding” of accessible toilets.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said: “Disabled road users tell us how driving gives them independence and a sense of freedom when using public transport may not be possible.

More must be done to remove the barriers that disabled people face when they travel on the road network.

Until now, much of the transport debate around disability has been mostly about public transport.

This research widens the discussion to people who drive or are driven, a vital form of mobility for many people.”

28 November 2018

 

 

Bus company ‘turns back clock on wheelchair access’

A bus company has turned back the clock on access by introducing new buses that will make it harder for wheelchair-users to use public transport, says a leading disabled campaigner.

Lothian Buses took the decision to ban non-folding buggies from its vehicles in 2008 so the accessible spaces could be used by wheelchair-users, which it said at the time was a reasonable adjustment under the Disability Discrimination Act.

It scrapped the ban four years later – following years of protests from parents – after introducing more than 250 new buses with dedicated spaces for both buggies and wheelchairs, although passengers with buggies still had to vacate spaces for wheelchair-users if required.

But the company, which provides services to Edinburgh and the surrounding areas, has now announced that it will be introducing new double-decker buses, with extra capacity, audio-visual announcements, wi-fi and high-backed seating.

But the new buses will only have one accessible space, with no separate area for buggies.

Campaigners and politicians have warned that the new vehicles risk shutting both disabled people and parents with young children out of central Edinburgh.

Transport access campaigner Doug Paulley, who himself secured a Supreme Court victory over another bus company’s failure to ensure the rights of wheelchair-users to use its services, said he was “very concerned about the change in Lothian’s attitude and approach”.

He said: “They know there is a known severe problem of conflict for the wheelchair space, as evidenced by their previous policy and the parents’ campaign.

They’ve gone from a bastion of good accessibility practice which I and others held up to recalcitrant organisations, to a lazy position of reinstating conditions causing such conflict, without thinking the issues through.

Disabled people will suffer as a result: all the repeated and known problems of conflict with non-wheelchair users, and the lock-on confidence problems, conflict and unpleasantness this engenders. All of which is totally unnecessary. They are going backwards.

Their lack of knowledge, care and competence is demonstrated succinctly by their claim that the buses are ‘DDA compliant’ when the Disability Discrimination Act hasn’t existed for eight years and when they have previously acknowledged that a vehicle’s physical compliance with the accessibility regulations is not enough on its own to ensure wheelchair users have reliable and hassle-free access to buses.”

Lothian Buses had failed to comment by 10 am this morning (Thursday).

29 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 14:37
Nov 222018
 

McVey flees DWP without answering key questions on WCA deaths ‘cover-up’

Esther McVey has quit as work and pensions secretary without answering questions she was asked by MPs four months ago about whether her department covered up links between its hated fitness for work test and the deaths of benefit claimants.

McVey resigned last week in protest at the prime minister’s Brexit deal, but her resignation came months after two opposition spokespeople wrote to her about claims of a possible cover-up by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Neither Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, nor Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrats’ work and pensions spokesman, had received a response from McVey to their questions by the time she quit the department.

They had written to her after Disability News Service (DNS) reported how DWP was refusing to say if it showed key documents linking the deaths of claimants with the work capability assessment (WCA) to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert the government hired to review the test in 2013 and 2014.

Litchfield carried out the fourth and fifth reviews of the WCA but has refused to say if he was shown two letters written by coroners and a number of secret DWP “peer reviews”.

Litchfield, who was recognised by the prime minister with a CBE in June’s birthday honours, published his two reviews in December 2013 and November 2014, but neither of his reports mentioned the documents, which all link the WCA with the deaths of claimants.

De Cordova wrote to McVey seeking answers about the documents on 25 July, nearly four months ago, and has yet to receive a reply.

Lloyd’s letter to McVey, written a week later, on 2 August, said it would be “astonishing” if Litchfield had not been shown the documents.

His letter added: “In light of Dr Litchfield being awarded a CBE, could you please confirm whether or not he was shown the documents linking the government’s WCA program with the deaths of benefit claimants?”

Weeks later, having failed to receive a reply, Lloyd wrote a follow-up letter.

His office confirmed this week that McVey had failed to reply to either letter.

Even though DWP possessed both the coroners’ letters and all the peer reviews, it has claimed in a freedom of information response that it holds no information in its records to show whether they were passed to Litchfield while he was reviewing the WCA.

A DWP spokeswoman refused to explain why McVey had not answered the letters from de Cordova and Lloyd.

Instead, she repeated a previous comment from the department, stating that Litchfield’s reviews were “independent” and that “DWP provided information alongside other stakeholders – on request”, while “any evidence used was referenced in the review”.

Since DNS revealed the existence of the documents in the years after Litchfield’s final report was published, concerns have grown that DWP and some of its ministers deliberately covered-up evidence showing the fatal impact of the assessment on disabled people.

The coroner’s letters followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013, and were sent to DWP in the spring of 2010 and early 2014, each warning of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.

Peer reviews – now known as internal process reviews – must be carried out by DWP civil servants into every death “where suicide is associated with DWP activity”, as well as other deaths and serious and complex cases that have been linked to DWP activity.

DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.

One of the aims of a peer review is to “determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved”, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not have been shown to Litchfield, whose job it was to review how the WCA was working.

But neither of Litchfield’s reviews mentioned either the peer reviews or the coroners’ letters, although the second coroner’s letter was not written until he had begun work on his second review.

Professor Malcolm Harrington, who carried out the first three WCA reviews in 2010, 2011 and 2012, has told DNS he believes he was shown neither the first coroner’s letter (the second letter had not been written by the time he completed his third review) nor any WCA-related peer reviews.

22 November 2018

 

 

Ministers’ ‘shocking’ failure to consult DPOs on bill shows UN convention ignorance

The government is facing calls to halt the progress of its mental capacity bill through parliament because of its “shocking” failure to consult any disabled people’s organisations about the controversial legislation, in a clear breach of the UN disability convention.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has admitted in a freedom of information response that it failed to consult any organisations led by disabled people while drawing up its mental capacity (amendment) bill.

Instead, it resorted to discussions with big charities like Mencap and Sense, which are run and controlled by non-disabled people, a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

It released the list of organisations it consulted in a freedom of information response to the disabled people’s organisation (DPO) Inclusion London.

But DHSC this week admitted that it believed – wrongly – that consulting non-user-led charities like Mencap and Sense on disability-related legislation meant that it was complying with the convention.

Inclusion London said it was “extremely disappointed but unfortunately not surprised” by the department’s “continued apparent inability to understand the difference” between disability charities and DPOs. 

And it said it was “outraged” by the failure to consult any DPOs about the bill “despite repeated requests from organisations of people with learning difficulties and self-advocacy groups”, while Inclusion London said the government had also failed to publish any accessible, easy read information about the bill.

Inclusion London called on the government to halt the passage of the “hugely important bill” until it had carried out a “meaningful consultation” with DPOs.

And it called on the government to take its duties under the convention seriously and start engaging directly with DPOs “as required by the UNCRPD”.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the government appeared to be “deliberately and persistently misunderstanding the very real difference” between DPOs and those charities “that are run and controlled by non-disabled people that do not represent us or reflect our lived experience”.

She said the evidence pointed to the government “deliberately choosing not to consult or engage” with DPOs, and she added: “This is quite simply unacceptable and goes against everything the UNCRPD stands for.”

She said: “In any other circumstances there would be an outcry if a bill that focuses on a specific community then excludes that community from having any information, knowledge or say over that bill.”

But she said this now appeared to be “standard government practice” where disabled people were concerned.

Last week, DNS reported how more than 100,000 people had signed a petition – drawn up by a network of DPOs, including Inclusion London – demanding the government make major changes to the bill because of fears that it would make it easier for many disabled people to be deprived of their freedom.

There are particular concerns about the powers that the bill – which will affect an estimated 300,000 people in England and Wales with impairments including dementia, learning difficulties and brain injuries – will grant care home managers, local authorities and NHS organisations.

Some amendments to the bill have been made in the last few days, but they have not satisfied the concerns of disabled campaigners. The bill began its report stage in the Lords yesterday (Wednesday).

The timing of DHSC’s admission is particularly embarrassing for the government, coming just days after a UN rapporteur delivered a stinging report on its efforts to address the extreme poverty experienced by disabled people and other disadvantaged groups.

It is also little more than a year after the chair of a UN committee said the government’s cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe”.

In the freedom of information response, DHSC listed 28 organisations that it consulted with about the bill between March 2017 and July 2018, including the General Medical Council, the Law Society, the National Autistic Society, Mencap, Sense, Rethink, the Care Providers Alliance, Age UK, the British Association of Social Workers and BUPA.

It also said it consulted with representatives of local government, the social care sector and the NHS.

But not one of the 28 organisations is led and controlled by disabled people.

The 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 committee on the rights of persons with disabilities included in its “general comment number seven”, which was adopted in September.

When Disability News Service (DNS) asked DHSC why it failed to consult any DPOs about the new legislation, and whether it accepted that this was a breach of the UN convention, a spokeswoman said there was no such breach “as we have consulted (and continue to consult) with ‘representative organisations’, as required”.

She added: “The [UNCRPD] requires government to consult with ‘representative organisations’.

We have complied with this by consulting throughout the process with third sector organisations, such as Mencap and Sense, who represent disabled people and whose members have fed back their views.

We have also engaged directly with individuals with dementia and learning disabilities, and their carers, to ensure the bill delivers effective reform whilst strengthening safeguards.”

When DNS pointed to the convention and general comment number seven, another DHSC spokeswoman declined to change the comment, and said: “We consider that we have complied with the convention by consulting throughout the process with third sector organisations, such as Mencap and Sense, who represent disabled people and whose members have fed back their views.”

DHSC also says the bill is based on proposals from the Law Commission, which itself carried out four years of engagement with service-users, local government and service-providers.

22 November 2018

 

 

UN poverty report: Newton refuses to apologise for misleading MPs about report

The minister for disabled people is refusing to apologise to MPs for misleading them about a report by a UN human rights expert on the UK’s record on causing and addressing extreme poverty.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, finished a 12-day fact-finding visit to the UK last week, concluding that the government’s policies and “drastic cuts to social support” were “entrenching” high levels of poverty and inflicting unnecessary misery.

He was highly critical of the benefits system, and highlighted claimants’ concerns about the system of “mandatory reconsiderations” (MR), in which DWP civil servants review decisions on eligibility for benefits such as personal independence payment and employment and support allowance.

Claimants must go through an MR before they can appeal to an independent tribunal.

But Alston concluded, in the preliminary report he published on Friday: “When claimants contest assessments that they consider to be wrong, there is a clear sense that the Orwellian named anonymous ‘decision-maker’ rarely varies the approach.

Similarly the requirement that before appealing a disability assessment to a tribunal a phase of mandatory reconsideration must take place is considered by many observers to be little more than a delaying tactic.”

But when asked by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, whether she would commission an independent review of how benefit sanctions and conditionality affect disabled people – after Alston had described the sanctions regime as “debilitating”, “draconian”, “harsh” and “arbitrary” – Newton instead claimed that there had been “factual errors” in the UN rapporteur’s report.

She said: “For example, on mandatory reconsiderations, ​he absolutely denied the fact that decisions were overturned, yet 19 per cent of mandatory reconsiderations found in favour of disabled people.”

She also told MPs that the benefit system was “there to provide personalised and tailored support for its recipients”, and she added: “We have undertaken a huge number of independent reviews of our benefit system and we do not hesitate in making improvements when they are identified.”

A DWP spokeswoman refused to say if Newton would apologise for misrepresenting what Alston had said in his report.

She also refused to say if Newton would point to the other “factual errors” she referred to in the House of Commons.

But she said, in a general statement about the report: “We completely disagree with this analysis.

With this government’s changes, household incomes have never been higher, income inequality has fallen, the number of children living in workless households is at a record low and there are now one million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010.”

She added: “We are absolutely committed to helping people improve their lives while providing the right support for those who need it.”

It is the fourth time in less than a year that Newton has been accused of misleading MPs.

In July, she denied misleading the Commons work and pensions committee about the early years of the government’s much-criticised disability employment scheme Disability Confident.

In June, as she tried to defend her government’s repeated breaches of the UN disability convention, she misled MPs in the House of Commons by stating that there had been “no freeze in the benefits that disabled people receive”, even though every part of employment and support allowance – apart from the support group top-up – is caught in the freeze on working-age benefits that is set to last until 2020.

And in January, Newton had refused to apologise for misleading MPs about a court of appeal judgment that was highly critical of her new boss, Esther McVey, just a day after her appointment as the new work and pensions secretary.

22 November 2018

 

 

UN poverty report: UK government has ‘inflicted great misery’ on disabled people

The UK government has inflicted “great misery” on disabled people and other marginalised groups, with ministers in a state of “denial” about the impact of their policies, a UN human rights expert has concluded.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said disabled people had faced “endless problems” as a result of the government’s social security reforms.

And he said it was clear that there needed to be a better assessment of the impact of the government’s social security cuts and reforms, including any links to the deaths of people found unfairly fit for work.

He said work capability assessments that had found disabled people unfairly “fit for work” had caused “a huge cause of frustration and disbelief” and that he had no doubt that disabled people had been “hit particularly hard by the changes in the benefit system”.

Alston said figures from the Social Metrics Commission showed that 14 million people, a fifth of the population, were living in poverty and nearly half of them were from families in which someone was disabled.

He said disabled people “were feeling a very big crunch” and he added: “Many of them were still getting benefits but those benefits had been reduced dramatically, many others were put in a position where the assessment had concluded that they were not really disabled and that they should simply get out and work.”

He said disabled people had told him “again and again about benefits assessments that were superficial and dismissive, and that led to findings that contradicted the advice of their doctor”.

Alston said the “lack of compassion” and the “lack of trying to really understand the challenges confronted in life” by many disabled people was “a real problem”.

He was speaking to journalists at the end of a 12-day visit to the UK as he published a preliminary statement on his findings.

He said the government had succeeded in putting out the message that “the state does not have your back any longer. You are on your own.”

And he warned: “By emphasizing work as a panacea for poverty against all evidence and dismantling the community support, benefits, and public services on which so many rely, the government has created a highly combustible situation that will have dire consequences.”

Alston said his discussions with ministers had convinced him that they were in “a state of denial” about poverty.

He said they appeared to be “happy with the way their policies are playing out” even though they had inflicted “great misery” on groups such as “the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping”.

He said he had heard “story after story from people who considered and even attempted suicide” and had spoken with many organisations that had needed to introduce suicide prevention training for frontline staff.

One adviser told him: “The cumulative impact of successive cuts has been devastating.

People are coming to me because they are suicidal, they have turned to sex work, they can’t live with themselves.”

Alston said there was a sense from the government that it should “make the system as unwelcoming as possible, that people who need benefits should be reminded constantly that they are lucky to get anything, that nothing will be made easy”.

And he said it was “very hard to disagree” with the conclusion that the government’s sanctions system was “cruel and inhuman”.

He said the government clearly wanted sanctions to be “harsh… immediate… painful”, even though the evidence he had seen suggested that they were “usually counter-productive, that they create fear and loathing among claimants, that they impose immense hardships on people who might have been five minutes late for an appointment [or] might have screwed up in some other way”.

Alston said this “punitive approach” was “utterly inconsistent” with the “social underpinnings” of both people’s human rights and the “British sense of community and the values of justice and fairness”.

Although his report focused on the social security system, particularly universal credit, he also pointed to the real-terms cuts of 49 per cent in government funding faced by local authorities from 2010-11 to 2017-18, alongside a rise in demand for social services.

He said: “As I toured the country, I was told time and again about important public services being pared down, the loss of institutions that would have previously protected vulnerable people, social care services that are at a breaking point, and local government and devolved administrations stretched far too thin.”

Asked in parliament on Monday about the report’s findings on disability, the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, said the government was “putting in place record levels of funding to support people with disabilities”.

She said: “I published a very full response to the previous UN report [by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities], and I utterly repudiate the conclusion that this country does not support disabled people.

I am determined to make sure that every disabled person in our country has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.”

Asked by Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, about the sanctions regime and the “hostile environment” the government had created for disabled people, Newton claimed wrongly that Alston had stated that no benefit decisions at all were overturned at the internal review, or mandatory reconsideration, stage (see separate story).

Newton said: “The benefit system is there to provide personalised and tailored support for its recipients.

We have undertaken a huge number of independent reviews of our benefit system and we do not hesitate in making improvements when they are identified.”

Alston will present a full report to the UN Human Rights Council in June.

22 November 2018

UN poverty report: Universal credit could ‘wreak havoc’, says human rights expert

The government’s new universal credit benefit system could “wreak havoc” and has created a “digital barrier” that prevents many disabled people and other disadvantaged groups from accessing the support they are entitled to, according to a UN human rights expert.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, said the government’s “test and learn” approach to universal credit risked treating such groups “like guinea pigs” and could “wreak havoc in real people’s lives”.

And he said that the preparations being made by local authorities and charities for the rollout of universal credit had “resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic”.

He said: “They have expended significant expense and energy to protect people from what is supposed to be a support system.”

Alston was speaking to journalists at the end of a 12-day visit to the UK, as he published a preliminary statement on his findings. He will present a full report to the UN Human Rights Council in June.

Earlier this month, Disability News Service reported how written evidence submitted to Alston’s inquiry described how a man with learning difficulties had died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto universal credit that left him hundreds of pounds in debt.

Alston said in his report that a key feature of universal credit was the imposition of “draconian sanctions”, even for minor infringements.

He said: “Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the special rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time.”

Alston also warned of the impact of the government’s decision to make universal credit the first major government service that is “digital by default”, with the expectation that claimants will rely on an online service rather than human interaction with DWP staff.

He said: “We are witnessing the gradual disappearance of the postwar British welfare state behind a webpage and an algorithm.

In its place, a digital welfare state is emerging. The impact on the human rights of the most vulnerable in the UK will be immense.”

Asked about Alston’s concerns about universal credit, the new work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, told MPs on Monday that she had been “disappointed, to say the least, by the extraordinary political nature of his language” in the report.

She said: “We on the Conservative benches will always engage with professionals, experts and non-governmental organisations – we are not so proud that we do not think we can learn as we try to adjust universal credit for the benefit of everybody – but that sort of language was wholly inappropriate and actually discredited a lot of what he was saying.

We look forward to working with experts in the area to make sure that we get the right outcome for the people whom we want to look after.”

She later described her new department as “a force for good”, but she admitted that there were “problems with universal credit, despite its good intentions”.

She said: “I have seen them for myself. I will be listening and learning from the expert groups in this area who do such good work. I know it can be better.

I will make it my role to ensure that we deliver that through our discussions within the DWP and through discussions with the Treasury.

We will have a fair, compassionate and efficient benefits system.”

In response to Rudd’s comments, Alston said on Twitter that the government had “a set of talking points about poverty and employment” that fail to address poverty, use “carefully chosen and misleading statistics to paint a rosy picture” and “ignore the horrible situation in which a large number of Britons live.

He added: “That’s not the way to find solutions.”

He also told Disability News Service: “I am hoping the secretary of state’s criticism of my report is not a substitute for a more systematic policy response to the many issues I have raised. 

My report recounts in some depth the many problems experienced by adversely impacted groups, and especially by people with disabilities, and I would hope that DWP will seek to improve the system so that it does not cause such hardship and make already very difficult situations even worse.”

22 November 2018

Union leads call for action on ‘silent massacre’ of disabled staff and students

Disabled teachers, lecturers and students have come together to call for sweeping changes to disability equality laws, and to highlight the barriers they face across the education sector.

A parliamentary meeting heard last night (Wednesday) how disabled people working in the education sector have been confronted by employers that are failing to provide them with accessible lecture and teaching spaces, denying them the right to disability leave – for disability-related absence from work – and delaying the provision of the reasonable adjustments they need and are entitled to under the Equality Act.

The event, hosted by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, was part of the University and College Union’s (UCU) first national day of action for disability equality in education.

Joanna Vanderhoof, co-chair of UNISON’s eastern region disabled members’ committee, described how she had been forced to go through an internal grievance procedure to secure the reasonable adjustments she needed from her university employer.

She said she had been “fundamentally failed” by her employer and as a result set up a disabled staff network and implemented workplace training on disability equality.

She said: “My employer broke current legislation in multiple areas yet I’m the one who has suffered and they face no repercussions whatsoever.”

She said she felt “utterly trapped because I can’t move to another job easily the way others can because I am disabled”.

Vanderhoof said that current legislation was “simply not sufficient”.

Disabled physics teacher Saeeda Bugtti said she had gone from being a highly-praised “poster girl” for her school to being asked if she wanted to take early retirement, after she became disabled.

She said: “As soon as I became disabled, I was too much of a problem.”

She echoed other speakers who had described how long it took for reasonable adjustments to be agreed and implemented by employers.

Another disabled member of staff said it had taken his “affluent” university – which had a surplus of £200 million – one-and-a-half years to provide him with a telephone with an amplifier.

He said the current legislation was “toothless” and there was a need to campaign for “a more effective Equality Act”.

Elane Heffernan, chair of UCU’s disabled members’ standing committee, who chaired the meeting, said: “We have to win this change. We cannot have this silent massacre of workers in education and students who cannot even get in through the door in the first place in terms of education.”

The meeting also heard how further education colleges and universities, motivated by increasing pressure to cut costs and increase revenue, were refusing to support disabled students and even attempting to force then out because it was too expensive to provide them with the support they needed.

Rachel O’Brien, disabled students’ officer for the NUS, said there was an increasing “marketisation” of further and higher education, as well as cuts to disabled students’ allowance in higher education and the introduction of education, health and care plans in further education, which had also led to cuts in support.

She said the introduction of “fitness to study” policies – assessing whether someone can continue as a student by looking at aspects of their life on campus such as health, behavior and attendance – implicitly or even explicitly targeted disabled students, such as those with mental health conditions, and could see them kicked off their courses.

She said: “It is no coincidence that this has come in at the same time as marketisation.

Disabled students, to be frank, are expensive. Universities and colleges are being forced to be businesses.

They have incentives to get rid of us, and they are trying to do it as fast as they possibly can.”

Among UCU’s demands are for legal rights to disability leave, a review of building regulations to ensure facilities are fully accessible, and strict time limits for reasonable adjustments to be provided for disabled staff.

Campaigners who have supported the UCU campaign – including other unions such as the National Education Union and Unison – also want a legal right for disabled people to access mainstream education and a reversal of cuts to special educational needs and disability (SEND) spending.

Michelle Daley, an inclusive education campaigner, said that disabled people should not be asking for “reasonable adjustments” but should be seeking “adjustments as a right” if that was what they needed to be able to function.

Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said: “Education funding has an impact on our right to access mainstream education.

We are increasingly seeing attacks on provision of support and local authority support and disabled students’ allowance support in mainstream education.”

She said there was “more and more money being ploughed into segregated provision”, which amounted to an “ideological attack” on disabled people’s right to inclusive education.

Paula Peters, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “It is so important that disabled people have role models but disabled staff within education settings are… under attack from workplace discrimination and worsening conditions at work, with experiences of hostile environments and isolation at work all far too commonplace. This is unacceptable.”

The idea for the day of action originally came from the union-funded National Disabled People’s Summit, which was held at the headquarters of the National Education Union in central London last November and was co-organised by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance.

The House of Commons event also coincided with the start of Disability History Month (see separate story).

Richard Rieser, founder of Disability History Month, told the day of action event that there was a need to “learn from the history” when it came to the increasing segregation of disabled children and young people, and he added: “We have the right to be treated with equality and challenge all the historic assumptions that have been made about us for many hundreds of years.”

The day saw UCU branches across the country organise activities to raise awareness about the issues faced by disabled staff and students, with support tweeted through the hashtag #IncludeUs.

One of those actions took place at the University of Liverpool, and involved disabled lecturer Dr Kay Inckle, who told Disability News Service in August how she had been forced to scour the campus for accessible rooms in which she could deliver her lectures.

She was even told that it might be considered “reasonable” for her to go down stairs on her bottom in some circumstances rather than be timetabled into ground floor or fully accessible rooms.

22 November 2018

 

ALLFIE calls for halt to MPs’ ‘sham’ SEN inquiry

A disabled campaigner has called for a “sham” inquiry by MPs into the special educational needs and disability (SEND) system to be halted until it agrees to address the increased levels of segregation of disabled students and cuts to their support.

Tara Flood, director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), spoke out the day after she gave evidence to the Commons education committee’s inquiry.

She told an event held in parliament last night (Wednesday) to mark the University and College Union’s (UCU) first national day of action for disability equality in education that the committee was refusing to “discuss the increased levels of segregation, refusing to discuss what needs to happen for this country to be more inclusive, is refusing to discuss cuts to SEND support services”.

She added: “I would urge everybody in this room to write to their MPs to demand an end to that inquiry until they have decent terms of reference that recognise the attack on inclusive education in this country.”

Flood told Disability News Service this morning that she had been feeling “more and more angry” about the way her evidence had been handled by the committee’s chair, disabled Tory MP Robert Halfon.

She said: “I felt I was the only one who was ignored when I attempted to speak.

I was stopped from talking when I started talking about the need for a rights-based education system.

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been that polite.”

She is to write to the committee to express her concerns and will also contact the committee’s Labour MPs to ask why they had not made a stronger case for the committee’s “incredibly weak” terms of reference to be expanded.

Halfon was not available to comment this morning.

Flood told the committee on Tuesday that there had been a “spike” in the number of parents contacting ALLFIE for help since the government’s Children and Families Act became law in 2014.

She was one of a number of SEND experts giving evidence to the committee as part of its inquiry into the impact of the major reforms to the SEND system introduced through the act.

She said: “I would say the majority [of parents who contact ALLFIE] are at the end of their tether.

They come to us and then recount the most appalling experience of struggle, of fight, of battle, feeling embattled, and a lot of this revolves around the myth of parental choice.”

She told the committee that there was no choice in the current system, and that parents had to accept the decisions of their local council, school or other education provider.

She said: “The minute that a parent says, ‘we want something different,’ particularly if it is, ‘we want our young person in mainstream with all the right support,’ parents are then often finding themselves isolated, labelled as a difficult parent, an unreasonable parent often, and are then left to fight.”

Flood said that this often leads to “a hugely expensive and very adversarial battle” with the local authority.

She added: “There is a perfect storm in terms of schools struggling with league tables, struggling with funding, parents struggling to get the right support for themselves and for their young person and yet still expected to talk about having choice and having a new aspiration for their children.”

Flood said the “real issue” was that the SEND system was “needs-led” rather than “rights-led”.

She said: “Parents will often have to get into this awful competitive round of who has the most significant need.”

The committee also heard from Steve Haines, executive director for policy and campaigns for the National Deaf Children’s Society, who pointed to a survey by the charity of about 1,000 parents of D/deaf children and young people.

He said that only about four per cent felt they had seen an improvement in support since the act was introduced while 82 per cent were concerned about funding.

One of the areas the committee’s inquiry is examining is the act’s replacement of statements of special educational needs with new education, health and care plans (EHCPs), which last from birth to the age of 25 and set out all the support a family in England should receive.

Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, which is a “strategic reform partner” with the Department for Education on its SEND reforms, said a “fundamental criticism” of the act was that it had “concentrated almost wholly in its first three years on the 2.8 per cent of children who have EHCPs.

Our worry is that the other 12 per cent of children who actually need SEN support are not yet getting that support in the way that they should.

It’s not clearly defined enough in schools, it’s not nearly understood enough in schools. We are clear that that remains an area of significant challenges.”

She also said there was an “inbuilt unfairness in the system” because it was usually people who were “white and middle class and educated” who were able to fight the system and take their battle for support for their child to a tribunal.

Guardian journalist John Harris, whose son is autistic, told the committee that the new system was “failing” despite its good intentions, partly because it was “enacted at a time of austerity, which continues”.

He said parents often find an “almost impossible wall of paperwork” when they seek support for their disabled child, followed by an “almost straight kneejerk refusal” by the local authority.

He said that, “irrespective of the good intentions” in the act, its execution had left “a huge amount to be desired, and I would say we are faced with a system in crisis”.

22 November 2018

Campaigner’s six-year battle to secure the truth about universal credit

A freedom of information campaigner has vowed to continue his six-year battle to uncover the grim truth about universal credit and its impact on disabled people and other groups fighting poverty.

John Slater has been using freedom of information laws since 2012 in an attempt to force the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to reveal the serious flaws at the heart of its new benefits system.

Slater, who has an extensive background in software development and programme management in industry, has submitted scores of requests under the Freedom of Information Act in the last six-and-a-half years.

But his attempts to secure information that he believes should be publicly available have been repeatedly obstructed by DWP’s frequent breaches of freedom of information laws.

He first became intrigued in universal credit in early 2012 after claims from work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith that DWP was going to complete the move to universal credit within just five years, a claim he knew was a “ludicrously short timescale for such a complex programme”.

But he was also alarmed to hear about DWP’s plans to adopt an “agile” approach to developing the programme, something that had never been attempted on such a large and complex programme.

Agile is a technique used mostly for small IT projects and which relies on flexibility, responding rapidly to change and making frequent and continual improvements.

None of these, Slater knew, were descriptions usually associated with DWP, or the ministers in charge of the programme, including Iain Duncan Smith.

He therefore began asking DWP questions about Agile, the risks the department associated with the programme and the “milestones” it had set to measure the progress of universal credit, through freedom of information (FoI) requests.

But right from the start, the department placed every obstacle it could in his way.

In May 2012, Slater told DWP that it had breached its legal duty to respond to freedom of information requests within 20 working days.

Although the department responded to his complaint later the same day, it then relied on an exemption under the act, claiming that releasing the information would “prejudice the free and frank provision of advice” or the “effective conduct of public affairs”.

Slater did not finally secure all the information he was seeking until April 2016, nearly four years later, following a series of tribunal hearings and appeals. The information he received, he says, “did not show a well-run programme”.

He says he has continued to ask questions about the programme for more than six years because he is “stubborn”.

As long as the DWP tries to hide what is really going on within UC, I will keep asking reasonable questions and asking for information that should shine a light on what’s actually happening.”

He adds: “I suspect that if the DWP hadn’t fought so hard to prevent me getting the risks, issues and milestones and been so dishonest I may well have stopped after that initial FoI request.”

Since that first FoI, most of his requests have initially been refused by DWP, resulting in repeated complaints to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

He has so far been successful in every single appeal he has made to the information rights first-tier tribunal, and in responding when DWP has appealed to the tribunal, including cases when DWP has withdrawn its appeal before the hearing.

He also complained to the ICO about DWP’s plans to share the sensitive data of claimants of universal credit with other organisations, which he believed breached the Data Protection Act, and which led to ICO raising “significant concerns” and his own subsequent FoI request which he used to ask DWP what measures it had taken to protect claimants’ sensitive personal data.

One of his FoI requests asked if DWP had a schedule or plan to show how the rollout of universal credit would be completed by 2021, as it claimed at the time.

He said: “Unsurprisingly, no such plan existed. This meant, in my opinion, that the date was a guess.”

One of his latest bids for transparency was launched in April 2017, seeking the information that was provided for regular meetings of the programme board that reviews progress on implementing the universal credit system and whose members are mostly senior DWP civil servants.

Like many other requests, its progress has been hindered by refusals, delays, appeals, complaints to the information commissioner, further delays, criticism of the department by the commissioner, and yet more of what he told DWP were “outrageous delaying tactics” and “contempt for the law”.

He said: “Given how hard it is to get accurate information about universal credit out of the DWP I asked for the packs of information that the UC programme board get given for their monthly meetings.

I assumed that this was likely to show an accurate view of what was really going on with UC.”

Last week, Disability News Service revealed how he had forced DWP to deposit significant numbers of previously confidential documents about universal credit in the House of Commons library as a result of this request.

Among those documents, Slater found evidence that appears to show that DWP is planning to transfer more benefits – including the contributory version of employment and support allowance – onto the creaking universal credit IT system.

He believes this would place greater stress on the system and expose even more disabled people to the stress and anxiety of having to cope with an online system that is already inaccessible to many of them.

He is currently waiting for the ICO to rule on whether DWP should release unredacted versions of the documents deposited in the Commons library, which he believes would reveal even more embarrassing information about the impact of universal credit on the people forced to rely on it.

Slater – who has worked closely on his campaigning with Disabled People Against Cuts – believes that universal credit was a “total mess” in its early years, before DWP brought in outside experts to assess what was going wrong.

This led to a major “reset” of the programme in 2013, following severe criticism by the government’s own Major Projects Authority.

Although Slater suspects it has now improved to some extent, he believes the disaster of the early years of its development means it is never likely to regain that lost ground.

He says: “Once something on this scale has gone so horribly wrong, I don’t think you can ever fully recover it and get it to the place it would have been if it had been run properly from the start. I’ve seen this with other programmes and projects.”

And he believes the senior civil servants leading on universal credit “are only just waking up to what it means to deliver change on this scale”.

But he also believes that DWP has failed to think about the impact of such major reform on the claimants themselves, including sick and disabled people, and “fails to reflect or take account of people’s real lives”.

I don’t think they give a damn about the claimants. I think they are almost seen as a nuisance,” he says.

The warnings and concerns of disabled activists, politicians and other professionals suggest he is right.

Campaigners have repeatedly warned that universal credit is “rotten to the core”, with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced, while, in June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.

Secret DWP reviews have already been carried out into the deaths of at least four universal credit claimants that have been “linked to DWP activity”.

Disability News Service also reported earlier this month how a man with learning difficulties died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto the “chaotic” universal credit system that left him hundreds of pounds in debt. It is not clear whether this was one of the four deaths reviewed by DWP.

And only last week, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, said universal credit had “built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements”.

Slater agrees with this and warns of the “unexpected and unintended consequences” of the rush to rely on an online system, particularly as the numbers moving on to universal credit continue to increase and DWP continues to introduce major alterations to the software that powers the system.

He also agrees with Alston’s conclusion that the government’s “test and learn” approach “could treat vulnerable people like guinea pigs and wreak havoc in real people’s lives”.

Slater says: “The drive to reduce costs and automate parts of the UC process, especially sanctions, will cause major problems unless the DWP spends the time to think about and talk to people who are using the system.

I think as the UC system becomes more complex and things are automated, we will see more and more unexpected and unintended consequences.

For example, in the recent Panorama program a man was sanctioned because his work coach was away and a meeting couldn’t take place.

If the DWP is going to automate more of the process, this is only going to get worse for people.”

He fears that universal credit will never work properly because DWP refuses to listen to claimants, particularly those with the highest support needs and the most complex barriers to using the system.

In the meantime, he intends to continue probing the flaws of universal credit with his freedom of information requests.

He says: “As long as the DWP keeps trying to present universal credit in an unrealistically positive light, I will keep trying to get information that shows what is actually going on.

This is why we have the Freedom of Information Act.

I don’t like organisations that are dishonest and use their size and power to bully people and impose their will or get away with mistakes that should be made public.”

22 November 2018

 

 

Activist tells mental health conference delegates: ‘You’re helping no-one but yourselves’

Grassroots activists have challenged the government and mental health professionals over their failure to address widespread attacks on their rights.

Members of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) were outside a conference in central London on Tuesday to protest at the “deeply harmful” impact of mental health services on the wellbeing of people living with mental distress.

MHRN said that “profiteers” and “cost cutters” at the event – which was examining “next steps for mental health services” – would be discussing services “designed to benefit employers and neoliberal ideology over the wellbeing of people who live with mental distress”.

They want instead to see a “change in culture” in mental health services and an immediate end to the “conscious cruelty” of the work capability assessment.

Several MHRN activists also attended part of the event, organised by Westminster Health Forum, which is believed to have been attended mostly by mental health professionals and civil servants.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of MHRN, told delegates the conference was “a disgrace” and that they had “no right to make money out of people in mental distress”.

She reminded them that people were taking their own lives because they were having their benefits removed.

She said: “This is about people making money. You’re helping no-one but yourselves.”

She told Disability News Service later that the focus of the part of the event she had attended had been on the government’s agenda of pushing people with mental health conditions into work.

She said: “This abusive ideology is now being embedded into the type of treatment we are receiving.

You go in to a mental health professional and they actually start bullying you to get a job.

There was this most toxic piece of Tory ideology being spouted out [at the conference]. I am really not happy with psychiatrists talking about a work cure. That’s quackery.”

Members of MHRN handed over copies of their new document, We Demand… , to delegates, and have sent a copy to Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director.

We Demand… makes 50 demands for reform, both of mental health services, and the social security system that service-users rely on.

The document includes calls for a public inquiry into the harm caused by psychiatric drugs and ECT; for the research and manufacture of drugs to be nationalised; for user-led mental health services; and for an inquiry into violence and abuse of patients in psychiatric wards and the community.

Among its demands on social security, it calls for universal credit to be “stopped and scrapped”; for an end to “degrading and stressful” benefit assessments; for the removal of all DWP work coaches from NHS settings; and for an end to “the lie that work can cure mental distress”.

They also want to see a public inquiry into deaths linked to the benefits system, with legal action taken against any MP or peer implicated in these deaths.

And they want to see legal action taken against any health professionals and disability benefits assessors who “cause harm by colluding with the removal of social security”.

An MHRN spokesperson said: “Action to hold the government to account is now long overdue as its reckless and contemptuous treatment of mental health service users and disabled people, removing vital support services and holding the threat of cutting our benefits constantly over our heads, is causing great harm and driving some to suicide.”

MHRN has demanded a full response to its demands from NHS England within two months, and wants an invitation to speak at all such future events.

In an open letter to Murdoch, MHRN demanded “a change in the culture of mental health provision, with the focus on long-term user led support and a stop to the ‘work-outcome or be sanctioned’ approach which is set to drive benefits provision for mental health service users” and amounts to a “dangerous level of pressure and coercion”.

The letter added: “We will also be demanding an end to the lie that mental distress can be cured by the simple act of trying hard enough.

This is another way of saying, ‘pull yourself together’. It is ill informed, lazy, accusatory, cruel and counter-productive.”

A spokesman for Westminster Health Forum declined to comment on the content of the conference.

22 November 2018

Fresh concerns from user-led network over mental health review

A user-led network has raised new concerns about the approach being taken by those leading a review of a key piece of mental health legislation on behalf of the government, just weeks before they are due to publish their recommendations.

The National Survivor User Network (NSUN) has released a letter it has sent to the chair and vice-chairs of the review of the Mental Health Act 1983, which raises serious concerns about their failure to consider an adequate human rights approach to reform of the act.

The NSUN letter highlights the continuing disquiet of the network and a wide range of other user-led organisations, service-users and allies about the review’s approach, following an earlier letter and a meeting with leaders of the review in July.

Their concerns include the “lack of concrete evidence” that service-users and carers are having an adequate influence on the review, including the failure to hear from enough people who have experienced detention, and an under-representation of service-users and carers in key working groups.

They are also concerned at the “unwillingness” of the chair and vice-chairs to consider recommending the full implementation of the rights contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

A full implementation of the convention would include bringing an end to “detentions, substitute decision-making [appointing someone to make decisions on behalf of a service-user, rather than providing them with support to make the decision themselves] and compulsory treatment”.

The letter from Dr Sarah Carr, NSUN’s acting chair, and Sarah Yiannoullou, its managing director, says they continue to have “serious misgivings” about the review and the recommendations it will make to the government, which are expected next month.

More than 120 organisations and individuals – led by NSUN – first wrote to the review in May to raise alarm about its reluctance to recommend full rights that comply with the UNCRPD.

A further 17 organisations and individuals have since added their names to the concerns being raised.

The first letter included a call on the review to address the concerns raised by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, after it investigated the UK’s implementation of the UN disability convention last year.

The UN committee said in the “concluding observations” to its examination of the UK that the government should “repeal legislation and practices that authorise non-consensual involuntary, compulsory treatment” and the detention of disabled people “on the basis of actual or perceived impairment”.

But Carr and Yiannoullou believe that the review team, led by Professor Sir Simon Wessely, has failed to change its approach since July’s meeting.

They are alarmed that the review’s recommendations are due to be published next month, and could form the basis for the last major reform of mental health legislation for many years.

Carr and Yiannoullou ask the review in their letter to consider a number of recommendations, including services that would be needed if there was to be compliance with the UN convention, such as an “extensive expansion of community-based and community-led resources” and a sharp increase in services that are user-led and appropriate for marginalised communities.

They also want to see widely-available peer advocacy and a “significant rise” in the number of resources that service-users have found particularly therapeutic, such as crisis houses or refuges available to service-users as an alternative to hospital.

In response to the NSUN letter, Wessely said: “Engaging with service users and carers has been a consistent priority for the review as we work towards our final report due out in December.

One of my vice-chairs, Steve Gilbert, is a mental health service user and has a critical role in influencing and shaping of all our work.

We have service users and carers within our advisory panel and each of the 18 specialist topic groups we ran over the summer.

We have a standing service user and carer group, which consists of people with a range of lived experience – both past and present; who we have met with regularly and who have robustly challenged our emerging thinking.

He said the review team had also held more than 50 focus groups across England and Wales since the start of the year, to hear from people with direct experience of the act, including those currently detained in a variety of settings.

There have been more than 2,000 responses to a survey of people with lived experience, and eight workshops, each involving about 100 attendees.

Wessely also pointed to blogs by Sarah Markham, a member of the service user and carer group, posted in July and August, in which she praised the efforts of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the review team to ensure that service-users contribute to the review.

DHSC said the review of the Mental Health Act “will consider the reasons for rising rates of detention under the act, how to reduce the disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic groups detained and how to improve processes that are out of step with a modern mental health care system”.

22 November 2018

Parliamentary event recognises disabled musicians who trumped oppression

A parliamentary event has recognised some of the many artists over the centuries whose talent as musicians has “trumped” the oppression they experienced as disabled people.

The event was held to launch the ninth annual Disability History Month, which this year focuses on disability and music and runs from 19 November to 22 December.

Richard Rieser, founder and coordinator of UK Disability History Month (UKDHM), listed many of the countless disabled musicians – many of whose impairments are not widely known – whose “creative impulse, the urge for self-expression, the need to connect to our fellow human beings” have trumped “the oppression we as disabled people face”.

Those he mentioned included Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Connie Boswell, Itzhak Perlman, Frederick Delius, Beethoven, Hector Berlioz, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Derek Paravicini, Robert Wyatt, and many blind, black musicians such as blues performers Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell, and the Reverend Gary Davis, as well as Art Tatum, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder.

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, who sponsored the event, said Disability History Month allowed people to hear about the “hidden history” of disabled people that is never heard in the mainstream media.

He said: “It’s vitally important that we celebrate it, but at the same time it’s important to recognize the reality of the world as it now is.”

He pointed to the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which concluded two years ago that the government was guilty of grave and systematic violations of the rights of disabled people in the UK.

He said: “I believe the systematic abuse of human rights is also denying people the opportunity of being able to celebrate their cultures.”

And he said the nature of the curriculum and the pressure on school funding were depriving children of the ability to learn instruments or to take part in dance or drama.

He said it was difficult enough for some of the disabled musicians highlighted during the event to demonstrate their talent but it was now becoming even harder for disabled young people to follow in their footsteps.

He said: “I think we are actually going backwards at the moment. If you see what is happening on the ground, in community after community, in school after school, group after group that have lost their funding… it is an absolute scandal.

So as well as celebrating the achievement I think we have to be straight with people as well and expose what’s actually happening.

This is not a party political point, it’s a point about civilized behavior. I think we are going backwards rather than forwards.”

He said there was a need to “get bloody angry”.

McDonnell added: “We should not, in the fifth largest economy in the world, allow disabled people to be treated in this way.

That anger should motivate us into further action.”

The event included highly-praised live performances from two disabled artists.

Tinuke Jonah performed her first single, Girls Like Me*, which is due to be released tomorrow (Friday), and which she said described how she had realised at the age of 18 that she no longer needed to apologise for her albinism.

John Kelly, playing the Kellycaster, an adapted guitar he created with the music, disability and technology charity Drake Music, sung two rights anthems.

The Kellycaster uses an electric guitar as an interface for computer software, allowing him to play both chords and notes.

Kelly said his guitar helped fight oppression, and he added: “We are fighting louder than ever and our voices need to be heard louder than ever.”

He quoted the disabled poet Allan Sutherland, who told him that when he was young, he “didn’t have any footprints to follow” as a disabled person.

He said that disability art is about our culture, it’s about who we are.

It gives us that confidence to fight the injustices and oppression we experience.”

The event also watched a video of one of the songs recorded by Lizzie Emeh, who was the first UK artist with a learning difficulty to release an album of original songs, Loud and Proud, in 2009.

She said that her next EP, Meds, which will be released in February, will be about the medication she takes and how it affects her.

She said: “I hate the word ‘normal’. Do you know why I hate it?

To me, normal is like a cycle on a washing-machine. Do I look like a washing-machine to you?”

The launch event also heard part of an interview between Rieser and Deaf solo percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, a longer version of which will be posted on the UKDHM website.

She described how taking off her hearing aids had allowed her to hear the drum she was playing through her body rather than her ears which “really allowed me to concentrate on the whole journey of that sound, the impact of the sound, the resonance of the sound.

Taking care of how that sound ended was really important because before I was just bang, bang, bang…”

George McKay, professor of media studies at the University of East Anglia, and author of books on protest movements, jazz, and popular music and disability, pointed to the links between punk music and disability, through disabled musicians like Ian Dury and Ian Curtis.

He said the performance of Dury’s rights anthem Spasticus Autisticus at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics managed to “articulate an expression of difference and a celebration of difference”.

It was, he said, an “extraordinary punk moment”.

*The single will be available from tomorrow by searching for “Tinuke Jonah Girls Like Me” on all major music platforms, including Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music and Google Play

22 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:23
Nov 192018
 

#WeDemand Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) has a Protest tomorrow, Tuesday 20th November 2018, from 8am.
Why?
Westminster Health Forum are holding a seminar tomorrow at OverSeas House, Park Place, St Janes Street London SW1A Called ‘Next Steps For Mental Health Services In England, funding, care and effencies. Which means cuts!

In fact, Lord Coles has made a series of recommendations in how to save a further £1bn from NHS Trusts budgets by 2020 the bad and the downright terrible ie NHS England, MIND and DWP will all be in attendance tomorrow

Either join MHRN in solidarity in person from 8 am in person address is above, or follow and tweet on line

Follow @MHResist and use the hashtag for the protest from 8am #WeDemand
Also follow @WHFEvents who are hosting the bad and the terrible and counter act them and hijack their hashtag for the event #Mentalhealth conf

Please join in however you can

Please show solidarity to MHRN

Please share with all networks and support.

 Posted by at 22:17
Nov 172018
 

Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

Version with footnotes (PDF)

London, 16 November 2018

Introduction

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, it contains many areas of immense wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world.  It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.  And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.  Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centers have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centers have been sold off.  While the labour and housing markets provide the crucial backdrop, the focus of this report is on the contribution made by social security and related policies.

The results? 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%.   For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.

But the full picture of low-income well-being in the UK cannot be captured by statistics alone.  Its manifestations are clear for all to see.  The country’s most respected charitable groups, its leading think tanks, its parliamentary committees, independent authorities like the National Audit Office, and many others, have all drawn attention to the dramatic decline in the fortunes of the least well off in this country.  But through it all, one actor has stubbornly resisted seeing the situation for what it is.  The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial.  Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the Government’s benefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan.  Some tweaks to basic policy have reluctantly been made, but there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention.  The good news is that many of the problems could readily be solved if the Government were to acknowledge the problems and consider some of the recommendations below.

In my travels across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland I met with people living in poverty, whether old, young, disabled, in work or not.  I talked with civil society, front line workers, work coaches, and officials from local, devolved, and UK governments; and visited community organizations, social housing, a Jobcentre, a food bank, an advice center, a library, and a primary school.  I also met a range of Ministers in the central government and in Wales, as well as with the First Minister in Scotland.  I spoke at length with politicians from all of the major political parties.

In the past two weeks I have talked with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter, children who are growing up in poverty unsure of their future, young people who feel gangs are the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who are being told they need to go back to work or lose support, against their doctor’s orders.

I have also seen tremendous resilience, strength, and generosity, with neighbors supporting one another, councils seeking creative solutions, and charities stepping in to fill holes in government services. I also heard stories of deeply compassionate work coaches and of a regional Jobcenter director who had transformed the ethos in the relevant offices.

Although the provision of social security to those in need is a public service and a vital anchor to prevent people being pulled into poverty, the policies put in place since 2010 are usually discussed under the rubric of austerity.  But this framing leads the inquiry in the wrong direction.  In the area of poverty-related policy, the evidence points to the conclusion that the driving force has not been economic but rather a commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering.  Successive governments have brought revolutionary change in both the system for delivering minimum levels of fairness and social justice to the British people, and especially in the values underpinning it.  Key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned.  In the process, some good outcomes have certainly been achieved, but great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.

Most of the political debate around social well-being in the UK has focused only on the goals sought to be achieved.  These goals are in many respects admirable, even though some have been controversial.  They include a commitment to place employment at the heart of anti-poverty policy, a quest for greater efficiency and cost savings, a determination to simplify an excessively complicated and unwieldy benefits system, a desire to increase the uptake of benefits by those entitled, removing the ‘welfare cliff’ that deterred beneficiaries from seeking work, and a desire to provide more skills training.

But Universal Credit and the other far-reaching changes to the role of government in supporting people in distress are almost always ‘sold’ as being part of an unavoidable program of fiscal ‘austerity’, needed to save the country from bankruptcy.  In fact, however, the reforms have almost certainly cost the country far more than their proponents will admit.  The many billions advertised as having been extracted from the benefits system since 2010 have been offset by the additional resources required to fund emergency services by families and the community, by local government, by doctors and hospital accident and emergency centres, and even by the ever-shrinking and under-funded police force.

Leaving the economics of change to one side, it is the underlying values and the ethos shaping the design and implementation of specific measures that have generated the greatest problems.  The government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility, to place major limits on government support, and to pursue a single-minded, and some have claimed simple-minded, focus on getting people into employment at all costs.  Many aspects of this program are legitimate matters for political contestation, but it is the mentality that has informed many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society.  British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society.  I provide various examples later in this statement.

Brexit
My report comes at a critical moment in the debate over Brexit.  I take no position on its merits or on the optimal terms for undertaking it, but anyone concerned with poverty in the UK has reason to be very deeply concerned.  Whatever happens in the period ahead, we know that deep uncertainty will persist for a long time, that economic growth rates are likely to take a strong hit, and that tax revenues will fall significantly.  If current policies towards low income working people and others living in poverty are maintained in the face of these developments, the poor will be substantially less well off than they already are.   This could well lead to significant public discontent, further division and even instability, thus underscoring the importance that steps be taken now to avoid such outcomes.

There are many concerns linked to Brexit.  Given the vast number of policies, programs and spending priorities that will need to be addressed over the next few years, and the major changes that will inevitably accompany them, it is the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society who will be least able to cope and will take the biggest hit. The IMF has suggested that a no-deal Brexit could cost the UK economy somewhere between 5% and 8% of GDP, representing a loss of thousands of pounds per household.

In my meetings with the government, it was clear to me that the impact of Brexit on people in poverty is an afterthought, to be dealt with through manipulations of fiscal policy after the event, if at all. But Brexit will have serious consequences in this domain and the challenges need to be dealt with head on. A lack of clarity is preventing families at risk of poverty from planning for its impact. People feel their homes, jobs, and communities are at risk.  Ironically, it was these very fears and insecurity that contributed significantly to the Brexit vote.

The fall in the value of the pound has already increased the cost of living for people in poverty by £400 pounds per year, and researchers have estimated that the UK economy is already 2-2.5% smaller than it would otherwise have been. Almost all studies have shown that the UK economy will be worse off because of Brexit, with consequences for inflation, real wages, and consumer prices. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, if the government does not adequately uprate benefits to account for inflation after Brexit, up to 900,000 more people could fall into poverty. This would strain a social support system that has been gutted in recent years.

The vote for Brexit reflects a great value being placed on the notion of sovereignty. But while people in a democracy are entitled to prioritize sovereignty through such a vote, it is imperative for steps to be taken to protect the most vulnerable and to ensure that the further fiscal consolidation measures called for by the Government and the International Monetary Fund should not be achieved at the risk of making that group of people even worse off.

The UK stands to lose billions of pounds in EU funds that will disproportionately affect the poorer areas that have most benefited from them, including almost £9 billion in poverty reduction funding between 2014 and 2020. Although the government has announced a “shared prosperity fund” to replace this funding, local and devolved governments told me they had no information about the fund or how it would operate—just five months before Brexit. Time is running out. Brexit could also have particularly harsh consequences for people living in Northern Ireland, with people living on the border and dependent on trade or cross-border employment.

If the European Charter of Fundamental Rights becomes no longer applicable in the UK, the level of human rights protections enjoyed by the population will be significantly diminished.  The UK should not roll back EU-derived human rights protections on workplace regulation and inequality.

Universal Credit
No single program embodies the combination of the benefits reforms and the promotion of austerity programs more than Universal Credit.  Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into Universal Discredit.

Social support should be a route out of poverty, and Universal Credit should be a key part of that process. Consolidating six different benefits into one makes good sense, in principle.  But many aspects of the design and rollout of the programme have suggested that the Department for Work and Pensions is more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting. While some surveys suggest certain claimants do have positive experiences with Universal Credit, an increasing body of research makes clear that there are far too many instances in which Universal Credit is being implemented in ways that negatively impact many claimants’ mental health, finances, and work prospects.

In addition to all of the negative publicity about Universal Credit in the UK media and among politicians of all parties, I have heard countless stories from people who told me of the severe hardships they have suffered under Universal Credit. When asked about these problems, Government ministers were almost entirely dismissive, blaming political opponents for wanting to sabotage their work, or suggesting that the media didn’t really understand the system and that Universal Credit was unfairly blamed for problems rooted in the old legacy system of benefits.

The Universal Credit system is designed with a five week delay between when people successfully file a claim and when they receive benefits. Research suggests that this “waiting period,” which actually often takes up to 12 weeks, pushes many who may already be in crisis into debt, rent arrears, and serious hardship, requiring them to sacrifice food or heat. Given the delay, which will only be partially mitigated by a recent concession, it is no surprise that the majority of claimants seek “advance payments,” which in turn must be repaid to DWP in relatively short order. Additionally, debts to DWP and to third-parties can be deducted from already meager Universal Credit payments at a rate much higher than is the case with the older benefit system. While supposedly deductions are capped at a maximum rate of 40% of the standard allowance portion of the payment (which will change to 30% in a year’s time), the Government told me that in fact additional clawbacks can occur. These so-called “Last Resort Deductions” are for matters such as rent, gas, and electricity arrears, if it is judged to be in the best interest of a claimant or their household.

The rationales offered for the delay are entirely illusory, and the motivation strikes me as a combination of cost-saving, enhanced cashflows, and wanting to make clear that being on benefits should involve hardship. Instead, recipients are immediately plunged into further debt and inevitably struggle mightily to survive.

There are undoubtedly many people who have benefited from the Universal Credit system, and many of the Jobcentre staff play important roles in supporting and encouraging their clients.  But many claimants also feel that they are forced to jump through hoops for the sake of it, fill out pointless job applications for positions that do not match their qualifications, and take inappropriate low-paid, temporary work just to avoid debilitating sanctions. One Conservative Party MP with whom I spoke criticized DWP for adopting a military-style command and control approach rather than seeking to empower their clients and instill confidence.

The digital-by-default feature of Universal Credit is highly controversial and a detailed assessment of this aspect is found on page 7 below.

When claimants contest assessments that they consider to be wrong, there is a clear sense that the Orwellian named anonymous ‘decision-maker’ rarely varies the approach.  Similarly the requirement that before appealing a disability assessment to a tribunal a phase of mandatory reconsideration must take place is considered by many observers to be little more than a delaying tactic.

One of the key features of Universal Credit involves the imposition of draconian sanctions, even for infringements that seem minor.  Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the Special Rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time.  As the system grows older, some penalties will soon be measured in years. 

Recent statistics indicate dramatic fluctuations in sanctioning, perhaps reflecting different instructions from on high. For unemployed people, between 6% and 8% are subjected to sanctions, and 31% of sanctions were for a period exceeding three months, and one in eight were over six months. A recent book characterized the sanctions as being cruel, inhuman and degrading, and the Inquiry undertaken by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found “evidence of grave and systematic violation of the rights of persons with disabilities,” partly on the basis of the sanctions regime.

Many detailed studies have been undertaken which give substance to the harsh consequences that ensue for vulnerable claimants who are sanctioned.   Departmental and Ministerial insistence notwithstanding, there is no clear evidence that recent high employment rates in the UK are due to sanctions, or that blunt and harsh sanctions are superior to far less harmful methods to encourage compliance with conditionality. Indeed, a real deficiency in the data DWP provides about sanctions makes it difficult to assess the regime. DWP does not make public sanctions data disaggregated by race or ethnicity, much less certain other claimant statuses such as single parents or carers. It is also impossible to determine from the data the number of sanctions that an individual has received, so it is not clear if the duration of sanctions is due to consecutive sanctions or rather an individual sanction of longer duration.What is clear from those with whom the Special Rapporteur has spoken, is that sanctions succeed in instilling a fear and loathing of the system in many claimants.

The government says it is taking an experimental “test and learn” approach to Universal Credit, but there seems to be an unacknowledged risk that this approach could treat vulnerable people like guinea pigs and wreak havoc in real peoples’ lives. “Test and learn” cannot be a decade-long excuse for failing to properly design a system that is meant to guarantee the social security of so many, and it does not remedy the damage done to those who were thrown into debt or out of their houses, or made to rely on food banks before the improvements kicked in.

As I spoke with local authorities and the voluntary sector about their preparations for the future rollout of Universal Credit, I was struck by how much their mobilization resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic. They have expended significant expense and energy to protect people from what is supposed to be a support system. Scotland has repeatedly urged the Government to halt the rollout and paid DWP for the introduction of certain flexibilities for claimants, such as the ability to receive payments more frequently. This is a constant complaint, and while some beneficiaries are happy with monthly payments, a great many suffer as a result of the arrangement, and may end up visitng the food bank or forgoing heating just to stretch a very small amount out over an entire month.  While cost has been cited by DWP as one justification for being inflexible and unresponsive, vast amounts have already been expended on automating the system and I am unaware of any precise costing estimate to justify the resistance to implementing this reform.

A Digital Welfare State
Relatively unnoticed amidst the turmoil of Brexit, the UK government announced the ‘total transformation’ of government in 2017. The 2017 Government Transformation Strategy was presented as “the most ambitious programme of change of any government anywhere in the world.” Not only will government services become ‘digital by default,’ as was first announced in 2012, but the inner workings of government itself will be transformed in a push for automation aided by data science and artificial intelligence.

There are few places in government where these developments are more tangible than in the benefit system. We are witnessing the gradual disappearance of the postwar British welfare state behind a webpage and an algorithm. In its place, a digital welfare state is emerging. The impact on the human rights of the most vulnerable in the UK will be immense.

Universal Credit as a Digital by Default Service
The UK government made Universal Credit the first major government service that is ‘digital by default.’ This means that an entitlement claim is made online and that the beneficiary then interacts with authorities mainly through an online portal. One wonders why some of the most vulnerable and those with poor digital literacy had to go first in what amounts to a nationwide digital experiment.

From the outset, the belief within DWP has been that the overwhelming majority of Universal Credit claimants are online and digitally skilled, and confident enough to claim and maintain benefits digitally. Despite contrary indications from some officials, the relevant documents show DWP’s assumption that most people are at ease and competent online.

Overall rollout of broadband internet in the UK may be high, but those figures hide the fact that many poorer and more vulnerable household are effectively offline and without digital skills. According to 2017 Ofcom figures, only 47% of those on low income use broadband internet at home. Only 42% of those who are unemployed and 43% of those on low income do their banking online. According to the Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2018, 21% of the UK population do not have five basic digital skills and 16% of the population is not able to fill out an online application form.

Universal Credit has built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements. Women, older people, people who do not speak English and the disabled are more likely to be unable to overcome this hurdle. According to a 2017 Citizens Advice survey, 52% of its clients in ‘full service’ Universal Credit areas found the online application process difficult. According to DWP’s own survey from June 2018, only 54% of all claimants were able to apply online independently, without assistance. As of March of this year, only about one third of all Universal Credit claimants could verify their identity online via GOV.UK Verify, a crucial step in the application process.

Again, despite official protestations to the contrary, ‘digital by default’ is really much closer to digital only. Since Universal Credit was announced in 2010, DWP has always underlined that alternative routes to this benefit needed to be “kept to a minimum.” According to its own figures, 95% of Universal Credit claims they receive are made online. DWP points to the Universal Credit Helpline as an alternative route, but long waiting times and call center staff who, according to civil society organizations, are often poorly trained, make this a very frustrating alternative. Jobcentres, many of which have been closed, offer online access, but very little digital assistance is available and official policy is to keep ‘face-to-face’ help at a minimum. Only in really exceptional cases will work coaches make a home visit to offer digital support.

The reality is that digital assistance has been outsourced to public libraries and civil society organizations. Public libraries are on the frontline of helping the digitally excluded and digitally illiterate who wish to claim their right to Universal Credit. While library budgets have been severely cut across the country, they still have to deal with an influx of Universal Credit claimants who arrive at the library, often in a panic, to get help claiming benefits online. In Newcastle alone, the first city where ‘full service’ Universal Credit was rolled out in May 2016, the City Library has digitally assisted nearly 2,000 customers between August 2017 and September 2018.

Many claimants also rely on digital help from benefits rights organizations and charities that are already under pressure from a range of cuts and other demands. They currently receive minimal funding from DWP to deliver Assisted Digital Support, which only covers 2 hours of help with the original application and is not nearly enough to cover the demand for support. As of next year, Citizens Advice will be funded by DWP as the sole provider of Assisted Digital Support, with a total budget of £39 million spread out over several years, which must also cover personal budgeting support. Not only is this a small amount in light of the need, but it diverts funding away from public libraries and other organizations which have set up improvised digital support programs.

Around one third of new Universal Credit claims fail in the application process and never reach the payment stage. Many of those cases may be related to the design of the DWP system. I am unaware of any effort by DWP to estimate the number of people who do not even attempt to apply due to digital exclusion.

Automated Benefits
While Universal Credit is a very visible example of digital transformation, an even more significant digital change is happening within the walls of central and local authorities. The merging of six legacy benefits into one new Universal Credit system aimed at reaching millions of UK citizens is in fact a major automation project. The collection of data via the online application process and interactions with the online journal provide a clear stepping stone for further automation within DWP.

One example is the Real Time Information (RTI) system, which takes HMRC data on earnings submitted by employers and shares it with DWP, which in turn uses this data to automatically calculate monthly benefits. As DWP explained to the Special Rapporteur, Universal Credit is only possible because of the automated calculation of benefits via RTI.

But with automation comes error at scale. Various experts and civil society organizations pointed to problems with the data feed, including through wrong or late information transmitted by employers to HMRC. According to DWP, a team of 50 civil servants work full-time on dealing with the 2% of the millions of monthly transactions that are incorrect. Because the default position of DWP is to give the automated system the benefit of the doubt, claimants often have to wait for weeks to get paid the proper amount, even when they have written proof that the system was wrong. An old-fashioned pay slip is deemed irrelevant when the information on the computer is different.

Another area of major transformation is that of automated fraud and error detection and prevention. Serious investments have been made by DWP to undertake data matching to identify fraud and error in the context of the Generalised Matching Service. Over the years, millions of inconsistency matches have led to further investigations for fraud and error. At the local level, DWP has subsidized ‘risk-based verification systems’, mostly built by private IT vendors, which flag claimants for low, medium or high risk of fraud and error, thus allowing local authorities to investigate high risk cases more closely. At present, DWP is developing a “fully automated risk analysis and intelligence system for fraud and error,” which will go beyond automatically finding inconsistencies between different databases and aims to prevent fraud and error by using new tools including Artificial Intelligence.

An Artificial Future?
Artificial Intelligence is very much in fashion and there are many related initiatives in the UK. The Prime Minister aims to “propel Britain to global leadership of the industries of the future” including through the use of big data and artificial intelligence, and one of the ‘Grand Challenges’ of the November 2017 Industrial Strategy is to put the UK “at the forefront of the AI and data revolution.” The House of Lords will debate a recent report on Artificial Intelligence on Monday, and new institutions such as the AI Council, the government Office for AI and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation are being set up.

Government is increasingly automating itself with the use of data and new technology tools, including AI. Evidence shows that the human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable are especially at risk in such contexts.

A major issue with the development of new technologies by the UK government is a lack of transparency. Even the existence of the automated systems developed by DWP’s ‘Analysis & Intelligence Hub’ and ‘Risk Intelligent Service’ is almost unknown. The existence, purpose and basic functioning of these automated government systems remains a mystery in many cases, fueling misconceptions and anxiety about them. Advocacy organizations and media must rely on Freedom of Information requests to clarify the scope of automated systems used by government, but such requests often fail. Central and local government departments typically claim that revealing more information on automation projects would prejudice its commercial interests or those of the IT consultancies it contracts to, would breach intellectual property protections, or would allow individuals to ‘game the system.’

But it is clear that more public knowledge about the development and operation of automated systems is necessary. The segmentation of claimants into low, medium and high risk in the benefit system is already happening in contexts such as ‘Risk-based verification.’ Those flagged as ‘higher risk’ are the subject of more intense scrutiny and investigation, often without even being aware of this fact. The presumption of innocence is turned on its head when everyone applying for a benefit is screened for potential wrongdoing in a system of total surveillance. And in the absence of transparency about the existence and workings of automated systems, the rights to contest an adverse decision, and to seek a meaningful remedy, are illusory.

There is nothing inherent in Artificial Intelligence and other technologies that enable automation that threatens human rights and the rule of law. The reality is that governments simply seek to operationalize their political preferences through technology; the outcomes may be good or bad. But without more transparency about the development and use of automated systems, it is impossible to make such an assessment. And by excluding citizens from decision-making in this area we may set the stage for a future based on an artificial democracy.

Transparency about the existence, purpose, and use of new technologies in government and participation of the public in these debates will go a long way toward demystifying technology and clarifying distributive impacts. New technologies certainly have great potential to do good. But more knowledge may also lead to more realism about the limits of technology. A machine learning system may be able to beat a human at chess, but it may be less adept at solving complicated social ills such as poverty.

The new institutions currently being set up by the UK government in the area of big data and AI focus heavily on ethics. While their establishment is certainly a positive development, we should not lose sight of the limits of an ethics frame. Ethical concepts such as fairness are without agreed upon definitions, unlike human rights which are law. Government use of automation, with its potential to severely restrict the rights of individuals, needs to be bound by the rule of law and not just an ethical code.

While the overall innovation agenda may point in the direction of light-touch regulation and ethics, the Special Rapporteur would argue for a strengthening of the existing legal framework and its enforcement by regulators such as the Information Commissioner’s Office. While the EU General Data Protection Regulation includes promising provisions related to automated decision-making and Data Protection Impact Assessments, it is worrying that the Data Protection Act 2018 creates a quite significant loophole to the GDPR for government data use and sharing in the context of the Framework for Data Processing by Government.

The Dismantling of the Broader Social Safety Net
Before describing the ways in which the overall social safety net is being systematically dismantled, it is important to acknowledge some of the positive developments of which I was informed by the Government. The latest budget introduced several positive changes to Universal Credit, including a welcome increase in work allowances, as a consequence of which an estimated 2.4 million households will be better off next year to the tune of £630. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that 200,000 people will move out of poverty as a result of this change. By the same token, such improvements will be partly offset by the continuing freeze on benefits combined with the effect of inflation. The government has also taken steps to prioritize important social care issues through the launch of the government’s first loneliness strategy and the appointment of a Minister for suicide prevention.

There are many ways in which the overall safety net has been reduced since 2010, but this section focuses specifically on the effects of the benefit freeze and cap, the reduction of legal aid, the reduced funding of local authorities, and resulting cuts in other specific services.

  1. Benefit reductions and limits

Significant reductions in the amount of and eligibility for important forms of support have undermined the capacity of benefits to loosen the grip of poverty.  Capping benefit amounts  to working-age households, limiting support to two children per family, reducing the Housing Benefit for under-occupied social housing, and reducing the value of a wide range of benefits, have all made it much harder for people to make ends meet.

While the Government has commendably sought to protect the pension entitlements of older people, especially by introducing in 2010 a ‘triple lock’ to ensure that annual pension levels rise in accordance with whichever is highest among the rate of inflation, average earnings, or 2.5%. This helped to reduce poverty among pensioners, although the recent picture is less positive.

But the triple lock contrasts dramatically with the freeze on benefit rates for working age people since 2016. Poor households typically spend a higher proportion of their income on consumer goods than wealthy households and already often struggle to put food on the table after bills are paid. Despite this, the Government froze benefit rates in 2016, thus enabling continuing inflation to systematically reduce the value of the benefits.  Poor families have thus had to do more with less as the prices of goods has gone up and the value of their income has declined. Households are expected to have to cope with a reduction of £4.4 billion in 2019/20 alone. This year, when the Chancellor could have used the windfall he received from the Office for Budget Responsibility to end the benefit freeze a year earlier than planned, he instead chose to change income tax thresholds in a way that will help those better off and will do nothing to move the needle on poverty.

            (ii) Legal aid
There have been dramatic reductions in the availability of legal aid in England and Wales since 2012 and these have overwhelmingly affected the poor and people with disabilities, many of whom cannot otherwise afford to challenge benefit denials or reductions and are thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy. The LASPO Act (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) gutted the scope of cases that are handled, ratcheted up the level of means-tested eligibility criteria, and substituted telephonic for many previously face-to-face advice services.

(iii) Local authorities’ cuts
In 2010, the Government pledged to radically reform public services by cutting funding to local authorities in England. This has had tremendous implications for local authorities, which are obligated to balance their books and whose revenue raising powers are limited. According to the National Audit Office, local governments in England have seen a 49% real-terms reduction in Government funding from 2010-11 to 2017-18 alongside a rise in demand for key social services.

As a result, they have transferred a greater share of service costs to users who are often the least able to pay. They have cut spending on services by 19% and focused their spending on statutorily mandatory adult social care and child protection services. The leader of one city council told me local governments have cut preventative, proactive services and then had to cope with a rise in crisis intervention– which can in fact be much more costly than preventative services.

More than 500 children’s centers closed between 2010 and 2018, and between 2010 and 2016 more than 340 libraries closed and 8,000 library jobs were lost. Anyone can rely on publicservices like the library, but they are of particular significance to those living in poverty who may need to access a computer or a safe community space. I spoke with a group of young people from London who made it clear how valuable a community center is as a safe space in a crowded city where people are squeezed by an immensely challenging housing market, and where being stuck out on the street could lead to crime and gang life.

Local welfare funds, a vital resource for people on the brink of crisis, have been another casualty of austerity. Many local governments in England have closed or cut their Local Welfare Assistance Schemes, leaving vulnerable people and those facing emergencies without anywhere to turn. At least 28 authorities have shuttered their local welfare funds and councils reported reducing their related expenditures by 72.5% between 2013 and 2018. From 2015 to 2018, the proportion of destitute people who reported receiving in-kind help from local welfare funds dropped sharply by 28%. The collapse of this resource for people who face sudden hardship has apparently been of no concern to the government, which decentralized responsibility for the funds and does not collect any information on what has become of them.

Local governments are even struggling with the basic services they are statutorily obligated to provide. Northamptonshire County Council has twice this year issued a formal notice indicating that it was at risk of unlawfully spending more than the resources it has available. As a result there are concerns that hundreds of vulnerable children are at greater risk of harm due to rapidly deteriorating frontline child protection services. In March 2018 the National Audit Office criticized the lack of ongoing, coordinated monitoring of the impact of funding cuts on local authority services and raised the alarm that statutory services are at risk.

The government plans to update its funding methodology for local governments from 2020-21, and in December 2017 it launched a formal consultation on the matter — the Fair Funding Review. Many people with whom I spoke from local and central government expressed concern that this review could lead to even more negative policies affecting people living in poverty.

(iv) Cuts in other services
As I toured the country, I was told time and again about important public services being pared down, the loss of institutions that would have previously protected vulnerable people, social care services that are at a breaking point, and local government and devolved administrations stretched far too thin.

Cuts are being made without either measuring or accounting for their broader impact, such as increasing the need for crisis support and mental health services. People are being pushed toward much more expensive services that can’t turn them away, like accident and emergency rooms. Other parts of the government are now starting to feel the excessive resulting burden. And cuts that pare back the government’s ability to tackle poverty don’t even make economic sense. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has estimated that poverty is costing the UK £78 billion per year in measures to reduce or alleviate poverty—not counting the cost of benefits. £1 in every £5 spent on public services is making up for the way that poverty has damaged people’s lives.

The voluntary sector has done an admirable job of picking up the slack for those government functions that have been cut or de facto outsourced. One pastor told me that because the government has cut services to the bone, his church is providing meals paid for by church members. But that work is not an adequate substitute for the government’s obligations. Food banks cannot step in to do the government’s job, and teachers—who very well may be relying on food banks themselves—shouldn’t be responsible for ensuring their students have clean clothes and food to eat.

By emphasizing work as a panacea for poverty against all evidence and dismantling the community support, benefits, and public services on which so many rely, the government has created a highly combustible situation that will have dire consequences. As one city council leader told us, “If there is another recession, our capacity to react to it has been completely cut.” Government officials dismissed such concerns and claimed that Universal Credit would work equally well when a future recession brings high levels of unemployment.

Measuring and Monitoring Poverty
It became clear from my many meetings and encounters in the UK that people want to work, and are taking hard, low paying, and insecure jobs in order to put food on the table. They want to contribute to their society and communities, support their families, live in safe, affordable housing, and take control over their lives. A just and compassionate UK can ensure these people are able to escape the restrictions of poverty. But a social safety net is not just for people already in poverty. It is equally important for a very large number of people whose margin of error is small and for whom a single crisis can lead to disaster. Many of the people I heard from ended up struggling to overcome financial hardship because of a surprise health condition, a divorce, or a child’s disability. More and more working people are trapped in poverty by a rising tide of low pay, debt, and high living costs, and a majority of the UK population will use some form of benefits over an 18-year period. In other words, a majority of the British people have a personal stake in the welfare system functioning effectively.

To address poverty systematically and effectively it is essential to know its extent and character.  Yet the United Kingdom does not have an official measure of poverty. It produces four different measures of people who live on “below average income.” This allows it to pick and choose which numbers to use and to claim that “absolute poverty” is falling. Seen in context, however, other measures show that progress in reducing poverty has flat lined, child poverty is rising, and poverty is projected to rise in the coming years. The bipartisan Social Metrics Commission’s New Poverty Measure represents an attempt to create a single comprehensive measure of poverty, and these are the numbers I reference here unless otherwise noted. I would urge the Government to respond to the Commission and adopt its approach, which has received an impressive degree of cross-party support.

The government told me that there are 3.3 million more people in work than in 2010, that so called “absolute poverty” is falling, and that the social support system is working. An elected official added that there is no extreme poverty in the UK and nothing like the levels of destitution seen in other countries. But there is a striking and almost complete disconnect between what I heard from the government and what I consistently heard from many people directly, across the country.

People I spoke with told me they have to choose between eating and heating their homes, or eating and feeding their children. One person said, “I would rather feed my kids than pay my rent, but that could get us all kicked out.” Children are showing up at school with empty stomachs, and schools are collecting food on an ad hoc basis and sending it home because teachers know that their students will otherwise go hungry. Many families are living paycheck to paycheck. And 2.5 million people in the UK survive with incomes no more than 10% above the poverty line. They are thus just one crisis away from of falling into poverty through no fault of their own.

In Jaywick, Erin described how she and her husband used to work full time and had a savings account, but one crisis changed her life. “I needed full time care, and my husband had to leave his job,” she said. “Suddenly we were living on disability. Then our landlord gave us eight weeks to vacate the apartment. We discovered that no one will let you view a house when you’re on disability benefits…. I do not know where I’ll be putting my child to bed soon. Should he be made homeless?”

Cuts to social support, preventative services, and local councils mean that when people need help, there are fewer resources to support them, causing them to rely on charities and crisis services. One front line worker told me that they are referring people to food banks because “people have exhausted the possibility of borrowing from their families and friends, defaulted on their loans, and have nowhere else to go.”

I also heard story after story from people who considered and even attempted suicide, and spoke with multiple organizations that have instituted suicide prevention training for frontline staff in recent years. One person said, “The cumulative impact of successive cuts has been devastating. People are coming to me because they are suicidal, they have turned to sex work, they can’t live with themselves.”

These aren’t just anecdotes. They are reflected in the numbers. In England, homelessness is up 60% since 2010, rough sleeping is up 134%. There are 1.2 million people on the social housing waiting list, but less than 6,000 homes were built last year. Food bank use is up almost four-fold since 2012, and there are now about 2,000 food banks in the UK, up from just 29 at the height of the financial crisis. Not only does the government not measure food poverty, but a Minister dismissed the significance of foodbank use as being only occasional and noted that foodbanks exist in many other western countries. The clear implication was that their rapid growth in the UK should not be seen as cause for concern, let alone for government action.

Employment as the Cure-All for Poverty
The government says work is the solution to poverty and points to record employment rates as evidence that the country is going in the right direction. But being in employment does not magically overcome poverty. In-work poverty is increasingly common and almost 60% of those in poverty in the UK are in families where someone works. There are 2.8 million people living in poverty in families where all adults work full time. Families with two parents working full time at the national minimum wage are still 11% short of the income needed to raise a child. One person told me “I know people who are working five jobs to make the national minimum wage, which isn’t a living wage.”

Low wages, insecure jobs, and zero hour contracts mean that even at record unemployment there are still 14 million people in poverty. Government Ministers emphasized that only 3% of the workforce on zero hours contracts, with no benefits or security. But that amounts to almost one million workers, and a great many of them will be among the most vulnerable members of society. And the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found that 10% of workers over 16 are in insecure employment. Jobs aren’t even a guarantee against people needing food banks. The Trussell Trust told me that one in six people referred to their food banks is in work. One pastor said “The majority of people using our food bank are in work…. Nurses and teachers are accessing food banks.”

The Hardest Hit
The costs of austerity have fallen disproportionately upon the poor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, children, single parents, and people with disabilities. The changes to taxes and benefits since 2010 have been highly regressive, and the policies have taken the highest toll on those least able to bear it. The government says everyone’s hard work has paid off, but according to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, while the bottom 20% of earners will have lost on average 10% of their income by 2021/22 as a result of these changes, top earners have actually come out ahead. According to 2017 research by the Runnymede Trust and Women’s Budget Group, as a result of changes to taxes, benefits, and public spending from 2010 through 2020, Black and Asian households in the lowest fifth of incomes will experience largest average drop in living standards, about 20%.

(i) Women
Women are particularly affected by poverty. Reductions in social care services translate to an increased burden on primary caregivers who are disproportionately women. Under Universal Credit, single payments to an entire household may entrench problematic and often gendered dynamics within a couple, including by giving control of the payments to a financially or physically abusive partner. Changes to the support for single parents also disproportionately affect women, who make up about 90% of single parents, and as of August of this year, two-thirds of Universal Credit recipients who had their benefits capped were single parents. Single pensioners are also driving the uptick in pensioner poverty, and are significantly more likely to be women.

(ii) Children
Many of the recent changes to social support in the UK have a disparate impact on children, including the deeply problematic two child policy, the outrageous rape exception, and the benefits cap. The Equality and Human Rights Commission forecasts that another 1.5 million more children will fall into poverty between 2010 and 2021/22 as a result of the changes to benefits and taxes, a 10% increase from 31% to 41%. Sanctions against parents can have unintended consequences on their children. According to the Social Metrics Commission, almost a third of children in the UK live in poverty. After years of progress, child poverty is rising again, and expected to continue increasing sharply in the coming years. According to Child Poverty Action Group, the child benefit will have lost 23% of its real value between 2010 and 2020, due to sub-inflationary uprating and the current freeze. And low paid jobs and stagnant wages have a direct effect on children, with families where two adults earn the minimum wage still falling short of the adequate income needed to raise a child. Because of changes to benefits and taxes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission projects the poverty rate for children in single parent households to jump to a shocking 62% by 2021/22.

(iii) People with disabilities
Nearly half of those in poverty, 6.9 million people, are from families in which someone has a disability. People with disabilities are more likely to be in poverty, and are more likely to be unemployed, in insecure employment, or economically inactive. They have also been some of the hardest hit from austerity measures. As a result of changes to benefits and taxes since 2010, some families with disabilities are projected to lose £11,000 on average by 2021/22, more than 30% of their annual net income. People with disabilities told me again and again about benefits assessments that were superficial and dismissive, and that led to findings that contradicted the advice of their doctor.

(iv) Pensioners
Despite the protections offered by the triple lock, pensioner poverty has begun to rise after decades of decline. Between 2012/13 and 2016/17, the number of pensioners living in poverty rose by 300,000. As was made clear to me in a number of submissions and through powerful personal testimony, a group of women born in the 1950s have been particularly impacted by an abrupt and poorly phased in change in the state pension age from 60 to 66. The impact of the changes to pensionable age is such as to severely penalize those who happen to be on the cusp of retirement and who had well-founded expectations of entering the next phase of their lives, rather than being plunged back into a workforce for which many of them were ill-prepared and to which they could not reasonably have been expected to adjust with no notice.

(v) Asylum seekers and migrants
Destitution is built into the asylum system. Asylum seekers are banned from working and limited to a derisory level of support that guarantees they will live in poverty. The government promotes work as the solution to poverty, yet refuses to allow this particular group to work. While asylum seekers receive some basic supports such as housing, they are left to make do with an inadequate, poverty-level income of around £5 a day. For those who have no recourse to public funds as a result of their immigration status, the situation can be particularly difficult; such individuals face an increased risk of exploitation and enjoy restricted access to educational opportunities.

(vi) Rural poverty
Despite the idyllic traditional image of the English countryside, poverty in rural areas is particularly harsh. Rural dwellers are particularly impacted by cuts to transportation and public services, are at a higher risk of loneliness and isolation, and often face higher fuel costs.

An organization working on rural poverty that I met with in Bristol told me, “If you’re poor in the countryside it’s twice as bad, because you don’t have access to services. People can’t afford the bus and the bus doesn’t go where you need it to anyways.” Without adequate access to transportation, people can’t get to work even when they are able to get a job. One person told me that it was easier for her to go to find a job by going to another city and staying with friends there than it would have been to find a job at home without public transportation.

And with the government’s new dependence on digital-by-default benefits applications, lack of broadband internet or access to libraries are particularly painful. Government officials assured me that anyone can walk off the street and get support to make an online claim for benefits, but that’s simply not the case for people living outside major cities.

Devolved Administrations
Devolved administrations have tried to mitigate the worst impacts of austerity, despite experiencing significant reductions in block grant funding and constitutional limits on their ability to raise revenue. Scotland and Northern Ireland each report spending about £125 million per year to protect people from the worst impacts of austerity. And unlike England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have continued to provide access to welfare funds for emergency hardships. 

But mitigation comes at a price and is not sustainable. The Scottish government has urged the UK to put an end to the benefit freeze and the two child limit on certain benefits, and told me that they have reached the limit of what they can afford to mitigate, because every pound spent on off-setting cuts means taking away from other vital services. Northern Ireland’s mitigation package runs out in 2020, leaving vulnerable people facing a “cliff edge scenario.” But more broadly, it is outrageous that devolved administrations need to spend resources to shield people from government policies.

Scotland
Scotland, despite having the lowest poverty rates in the United Kingdom, has the lowest life expectancy and the highest suicide rate in Great Britain. I met with children in Glasgow’s North East, where, according to one local councillor, 48% of people are out of work, life expectancy is six years lower than the national average, about half of families are single-parent households, and about a third of households lack an internet connection.
 
However, Scotland has recently put in place schemes for addressing poverty, including its Fairer Scotland Action Plan and Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan. It has also used newly devolved powers to establish a promising social security system guided by the principles of dignity and social security as a human right, and co-designed on the basis of evidence. The system eschews sanctions entirely and, in contrast to Universal Credit, is decidedly not digital by default. Rather, the stated goal it to make benefits equally accessible however people want to access them.

It is too soon to say if these ambitious steps—and Scotland’s new powers of taxation—will make a difference for poverty, health outcomes, and life expectancy in Scotland. However, it is clear to me that there is still a real accountability gap which should be addressed. The absence of a legal remedy or a more robust reference to international standards in the Social Security (Scotland) Act is significant and should be addressed. I will be following closely the forthcoming recommendations from the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights.

Civil society groups also raised concerns about a general lack of awareness of local welfare funds for people in crisis and the considerable variation in how local authorities process applications for these emergency grants; in Glasgow only 3% of local welfare fund applications were decided in a day, whereas other councils managed to decide these claims within a day 99% of the time.

Wales
Wales faces the highest relative poverty rate in the United Kingdom, with almost one in four people living in relative income poverty. Like the rest of the United Kingdom, employment has not proven to be an automatic route out of poverty in Wales. In-work poverty has grown over the last decade, despite considerable improvement in the employment rate. Twenty-five percent of  jobs pay below the minimum wage, and low-paid, part-time or insecure jobs are often disproportionately taken up by women, due to difficulties in balancing work and caring responsibilities.

Faced with these challenges, the Welsh Government has determinedly shifted its focus to increasing economic prosperity and employment as the gateway to poverty reduction. A poverty-specific action plan and the post of the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty were scrapped in 2017, in favour of adopting a “whole Government” approach to poverty reduction. The new Prosperity for All Strategy, however, has removed the strategic focus on and the Ministerial responsibility for poverty reduction, and lacks clear performance targets and indicators to measure progress and impact.

In the absence of devolved power over social security benefits, the Welsh Government’s capacity to directly mitigate the reduction in benefits is limited, thereby shifting the burden to low-income households. There is a wide consensus among stakeholders that the benefit changes are one of the structural causes behind the increase in poverty, rough sleeping, and homelessness in Wales. Parliamentarians and civil society voiced serious concerns that Universal Credit may exacerbate the problem, particularly in light of the Welsh Government’s inability to introduce flexibilities in its administration, unlike its Scottish counterpart.

Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, the lack of a government forecloses the possibility of any major efforts to tackle poverty and results in an accountability vacuum. Like Scotland, Northern Ireland has taken steps to mitigate some of the worst effects of austerity measures, and is taking a different and seemingly more humane approach to certain aspects of Universal Credit. But a £500 million mitigation package is set to run out in 2020, and its expiration could have dire consequences for people living in poverty. According to the government, rates of long term unemployment are more than twice those of the UK as a whole.

In Belfast, I was struck by the extent to which communities in the city are still segregated by physical barriers and I was concerned to learn about persistent inequalities along religious lines. A startling 69% of those long-term unemployed are Catholic, compared with 31% Protestant as of 2016. People in Belfast told me that the government was not building sufficient social housing in predominantly Catholic areas, and Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission found that Catholics experience longest wait times for social housing among all religious groups.

Conclusion
The experience of the United Kingdom, especially since 2010, underscores the conclusion that poverty is a political choice. Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so. Resources were available to the Treasury at the last budget that could have transformed the situation of millions of people living in poverty, but the political choice was made to fund tax cuts for the wealthy instead.

It was a British philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, who memorably claimed that without a social contract, life outside society would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The risk is that if current policies do not change, this is the direction in which low-income earners and the poor are headed. Loneliness rates have soared in recent years and life expectancy rates have stalled in the United Kingdom, with the latest statistics showing a sharp drop in the annual improvement that has been experienced every year since the records began, and an actual drop for certain groups.

The compassion and mutual concern that has long been part of the British tradition has been outsourced. At the same time many of the public places and institutions that previously brought communities together, such as libraries, community and recreation centers, and public parks, have been steadily dismantled or undermined. In its fiscal analyses, the Treasury and the Government constantly repeat the refrain that fiscal policy must “avoid burdening the next generation.” The message is that the debt burden must be paid off now. The problem is that the next generation’s prospects are already being grievously undermined by the systematic dismantling of social protection policies since 2010.

The negotiations surrounding Brexit present an opportunity to take stock of the current situation and reimagine what this country should represent and how it protects its people. The legislative recognition of social rights should be a central part of that reimagining. And social inclusion, rather than increasing marginalization of the working poor and those unable to work, should be the guiding principle of social policy.

The UK should introduce a single measure of poverty and measure food security.

The government should initiate an expert assessment of the cumulative impact of tax and spending decisions since 2010 and prioritize the reversal of particularly regressive measures, including the benefit freeze, the two-child limit, the benefit cap, and the reduction of the housing benefit for under-occupied social rented housing.

It should ensure local governments have the funds needed to tackle poverty at the community level, and take varying needs and tax bases into account in the ongoing Fair Funding Review.

The Department of Work and Pensions should conduct an independent review of the effectiveness of reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012, and should immediately instruct its staff to explore more constructive and less punitive approaches to encouraging compliance.

The five week delay in receiving benefits under Universal Credit should be eliminated, separate payments should be made to different household members, and weekly or fortnightly payments should be facilitated.

Transport, especially in rural areas, should be considered an essential service, equivalent to water and electricity, and the government should regulate the sector to the extent necessary to ensure that people living in rural areas are adequately served. Abandoning people to the private market in relation to a service that affects every dimension of their basic well-being is incompatible with human rights requirements.

As the country moves toward Brexit, the Government should adopt policies designed to ensure that the brunt of the resulting economic burden is not borne by its most vulnerable citizens.

 

 Posted by at 15:33
Nov 152018
 

 

Utterly disgraceful’ Public Health England refuses to warn councils of ESA suicide risk

The government’s public health agency has refused to warn local NHS and council bodies that claimants of out-of-work disability benefits are at a hugely-increased risk of attempting to take their own lives.

Last week, Public Health England (PHE) published the latest update of its Suicide Prevention Profile (SPP), which includes detailed data that helps public bodies draw up their own local suicide prevention plans.

The aim of the profile is to develop “an intelligence driven approach to suicide prevention” by providing figures that show the prevalence of suicide among different age groups and in different areas, and how different risk factors vary across those areas.

PHE says its SPP aims to support local areas in developing and monitoring their suicide prevention action plans, helping them to “understand suicide and the risk and service-related factors that may have a causal relationship”.

The profile includes 25 risk factors for suicide, including the prevalence of depression, alcohol-related hospital admissions and how many people live alone, and shows how these indicators vary in every county and unitary authority area in England.

This allows the experts who draw up local suicide prevention plans to see which risk factors are particularly high in their area, so they can pay attention to them and try to produce strategies to prevent people dying through suicide.

But PHE has ignored the proportion of the population in local areas that claims employment and support allowance (ESA) as one of those risk factors, even though it is aware of NHS figures that show nearly half of ESA claimants have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey showed in September 2016 that more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle Campaign, said PHE’s failure was “utterly disgraceful” and “beyond belief”.

He said this “negligence” made PHE “complicit” in the continuing suicides among sick and disabled people that were being caused by the government’s welfare reforms, and the further “catastrophic harm” caused to those who do not take their own lives.

Dr Jay Watts, the activist and consultant clinical psychologist who first highlighted the figures, said there was “clear and undeniable evidence of the exceptionally high rate of attempted suicide by ESA claimants from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, the most comprehensive and widely respected measure of the nation’s mental health.

This data has been triangulated by other evidences including that from senior health professionals, the police, activist groups and those volunteering on national suicide helplines, all of which concur that the benefits system triggers risk of death by suicide.

Despite this, Public Health England has chosen to omit this from their new guidance, drawing the focus of local suicide prevention strategies away from an extremely high-risk group where help and care could make a real difference in mitigating risk.”

She added: “It is interesting that the ‘there are always multiple factors’ arguments is used to bat off mentioning evidence where the current government is implicated, yet somehow this rhetoric doesn’t get applied to other more politically neutral factors such as gender and loneliness.

Given this peculiarity, it is difficult to read Public Health England’s decision to omit the mentioning of ESA claimants as anything but an indefensible politically motivated decision.”

PHE admitted that it had been aware of the NHS Digital ESA statistics.

But a PHE spokeswoman said that, because the 43 per cent figure was a measure of how many ESA claimants had attempted suicide during their lifetime, the timing of suicide attempts and claiming ESA “may not necessarily have occurred at the same time, which has to be considered when looking at the data”.

She also appeared to claim that the reason the national ESA figures could not be included in the profile was because they were based on too small a sample, so producing local figures for the SPP could potentially identify individuals.

This appeared to be a clear and basic misunderstanding of the statistics that would be used in the profile, as Department for Work and Pensions figures show there are many hundreds, and usually thousands, of ESA claimants in each local authority area in England.

And if PHE included ESA as a risk factor in its SPP, it would only produce figures showing the proportion of the local working-age population who claimed ESA, posing absolutely no risk of identifying any individual.

The PHE spokeswoman refused to reconsider her response, despite being asked to explain the apparent flaws and inconsistencies in her statement*.

She also claimed that PHE made clear in its local suicide prevention planning guidance that local areas should “also look at other sources to inform their prevention plans”.

But this planning guidance makes no mention of the ESA figures or any other benefits in the relevant section (section 3) or throughout the document.

Lily Makurah, national public mental health lead at PHE, said: “There are many reasons that can sadly drive someone to take their life by suicide.

Our data helps to provide the basis for local authorities and partners to develop suicide prevention plans that best meet the needs of their communities.”

But McArdle said: “Judging from their reaction, it would appear that PHE have not properly examined the empirical evidence before us because had they done so it would be impossible for a reasonable person to reach the conclusion that they have.”

The Department of Health has repeatedly refused to explain why it fails to mention the figures or to highlight ESA claimants as a high-risk group in its own suicide prevention strategy for England.

Jackie Doyle-Price, the new “suicide prevention” minister, has refused to pledge to take the simple steps of highlighting that ESA claimants are a high-risk group in that strategy, and of alerting local agencies to the figures.

And this week her department failed to comment on PHE’s failure to mention the figures in its SPP.

The PHE spokeswoman did make it clear, though, that Doyle-Price had not been asked to approve the latest list of risk factors.

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

*The PHE spokeswoman also admitted that figures showing the proportion of ESA claimants with mental health conditions in the local working-age populations in areas across England were included in PHE’s mental health and wellbeing joint strategic needs assessment, which is designed to “help planners understand needs within the local population and assess local services”. But she failed to explain why similar figures for all ESA claimants in an area could not therefore be used in the Suicide Prevention Profile

15 November 2018

 

 

DWP ‘plans to move more benefits onto troubled universal credit IT platform’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been planning for years to move more benefits onto the hugely-troubled IT platform that hosts universal credit, documents released through freedom of information requests appear to show.

DWP deposited a substantial number of internal documents relating to universal credit in the House of Commons library this month, following the latest in a series of freedom of information requests by campaigner John Slater.

The documents include a series of “programme decision logs”, providing details of decisions taken between 2015 and 2017 by the universal credit programme board, which reviews progress on implementing the system and whose members are mostly senior DWP civil servants.

Universal credit was designed to incorporate six income-related benefits into one, including income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), housing benefit and income support.

But the IT system that supports universal credit claims – as well as the application of sanctions when they breach strict conditions and the online journal that claimants must keep updated – has been repeatedly criticised for being flawed and error-ridden, while critics have warned that the online system is not accessible for many disabled people.

The department is already preparing to transfer millions of people on existing income-related benefits onto universal credit by 2023, with the public accounts committee warning last month that delivery of universal credit was “causing unacceptable hardship and difficulties for many of the claimants it was designed to help” and of “a culture of indifference” within the department to those problems.

Now it appears that DWP is planning to load hundreds of thousands more claimants onto the IT system that supports universal credit, although it is not clear when it intends to begin this process.

The decision logs unearthed by Slater include repeated references to contributory benefits – out-of-work benefits paid to those who have built up sufficient national insurance contributions, such as the contributory form of ESA.

In January 2017, for example, the universal credit programme board “discussed the short, medium and long term approach to Contributory Benefits in UC, progress to date and next steps”.

It also “noted progress made on the development of the contributory benefit strategic business case”.

And it warned that “some senior input might be necessary to drive the business case forward”.

In May 2016, the programme board had “noted progress on Contributory Benefits design proposal for UC Full Service”, while the previous year the board had stated the need to “engage Ministers on the long term plans for contributory benefits and seek a decision by Spring 2016 in order that we can plan any legislative and policy changes”.

But despite these and many other references to contributory benefits by the universal credit programme board, a DWP spokeswoman said: “DWP has no plans to merge contributory benefits into Universal Credit. They will continue to be claimed separately.”

When asked why there were so many mentions of contributory benefits by the programme board and to confirm that the department planned to migrate them onto the universal credit IT platform, she refused to comment further.

Slater, himself a programme manager, said that migrating contributory benefits onto the universal credit IT platform “would appear to place all the DWP eggs into a single basket”.

He said: “Given the problems the UC IT currently experiences (outages, running slow etc), I can’t see it going well if contributory benefits are added to the workload.” 

Slater is also concerned that DWP may intend eventually to move disability benefits such as personal independence payment and disability living allowance onto the IT platform developed for universal credit.

He said the potential problems this could cause were “huge”, and he added: “We’re getting a taste of this already under universal credit, with people claiming income-related ESA or just not having the basic IT skills to cope with the UC IT system being sanctioned on a regular basis, which is leaving them destitute.”

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit is “rotten to the core” with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.

In June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.

And last week, Disability News Service reported how a man with learning difficulties died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto the “chaotic” universal credit system that left him hundreds of pounds in debt.

15 November 2018

 

 

UN expert tells of disabled people’s ‘horrendous’ evidence on poverty

The UN expert investigating the government’s record on eradicating poverty has described how he has heard “pretty horrendous” evidence from disabled people while conducting a 12-day factfinding visit to the UK.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, also told Disability News Service (DNS) that the government had not made the progress he would have expected in securing “real equality” for disabled people.

And he made it clear, after speaking at an event in London on Tuesday evening, that the impact of universal credit on the poverty experienced by disabled people and other groups would play an important part in his report.

He said: “I don’t think I could avoid it as a big issue.”

He said that disabled people had made up a “significant proportion” of the community and other groups he had met, and those he had met had told him “stories which are pretty troubling to hear.

They paint a picture of a system which doesn’t respond to their particular challenges and problems in the way that it should.”

He said that that did not surprise him on one level because disabled people faced discrimination all over the world.

But he added: “On the other hand there is a formal commitment [in the UK, through the Equality Act] to treat them with full respect and care.

One would have hoped there would have been more progress in terms of real equality for people with disabilities.”

Alston had made it clear earlier that, because of the strict rules of the UN process he was undertaking, he could not yet speak “in a very direct way” about his findings.

In response to a question from DNS during the event, he told the audience that he had met many disabled people during his visit who had described their experiences of poverty, particularly in relation to universal credit and the disability benefit assessment process.

He said: “I have to say that I have heard some pretty horrendous stories.”

He added: “One of the issues that I’m conscious of, and it’s an easy reply if government wants to make it, is that of course my audience is self-selecting.

In other words, people who feel that the system is working really well, who have had a good deal, who really love their work coach, are not going to come along to a meeting with me nor send me a letter saying the system is great, mate.

So I naturally tend to get people who are deeply discontented but it has to be said that I have had probably more than my expected share of people with disabilities who have had pretty awful experiences.”

He also told the meeting that the UK government had delivered a “relatively dismissive” response to last year’s report by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, in which the committee had told the government to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights. 

But Alston also told the event – organised by the UK human rights consortium Just Fair and the Human Rights Lawyers Association – that he had been told earlier that day by the government that there had been no austerity.

Although he later declined to identify to DNS which minister or civil servant had made the comment, he had just described having meetings that day with work and pensions secretary Esther McVey (who resigned from the cabinet this morning), as well as an unnamed work and pensions minister and a junior Treasury minister.

He said: “I was told today that there isn’t austerity. That government expenditure in almost all areas has gone up steadily in the last 10 years.

So I asked what Philip Hammond and Theresa May were talking about [when they talk about an end to austerity]. I didn’t get a particularly good answer to that.”

Alston also said that he had received “very surprising” answers from the government when he had asked about the use of foodbanks, although he declined to expand on what ministers told him.

He said: “The impact of these policies on communities is going to be an important element in my final report.”

He was asked by an audience member whether he had been examining whether government austerity measures, including benefit sanctions, might amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Alston said there were problems with the sanctions statistics that the Department for Work and Pensions places on its website, with “a lot of data that is not made available”.

He added: “The challenge to me is to be able to describe accurately what is really going on, but I think I will be able to do that.

Whether I would categorise it as cruel and inhuman, I will see how I feel on Thursday night when I’m finishing writing my statement.

There is a whole book that has that title, which I’ve read and I am well aware that many of the people who have experienced these sort of sanctions would categorise them in that way.”

Alston told the meeting that although he had “no power” and could not order the UK government to take any action, he hoped his report would be strong enough to “resonate with people” so that it would “have legs” and would “continue to be discussed”.

He said he knew the UK government would not welcome his report and would not agree to implement it, but he hoped to be able to “shine a light on some issues that could do with added attention”.

He also pointed to the role that tabloid newspapers and others – including those owned by his fellow Australian Rupert Murdoch (now a US citizen) – had played in stigmatising and distorting human rights “so we all know that human rights are only for drug dealers and terrorists”.

He said this had “highlighted for many of us in the human rights community the need to start rehabilitating the notion of human rights”, and to emphasise that human rights “are for the average person and not just for the particularly vulnerable groups”.

He said: “If people aren’t getting enough food to eat I think there should be reasonable outrage and I think it would be useful to see that from a rights perspective, but I think that’s going to take time.

I think that’s what many of us in the field need to start working on.”

Alston also said that the international system of human rights provided a way to hold governments accountable for their actions.

He said: “What has to be recognised is that being in poverty is a grave threat to your civil and political rights.

Most of the people [in the world] who are tortured, most of the people who are killed, most of the people who are abused in prisons or elsewhere are poor. They are abused in part because they are poor.

They are easy victims, they don’t have recourse, they don’t have people to defend them, they can’t afford lawyers.

Attacking the poor is easy, and they as a result suffer highly disproportionately in terms of their civil and political rights.”

Alston and his team carried out months of detailed research in advance of their 12-day visit, which saw them visit Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, Jaywick, London, and Newcastle.

He is set to issue a preliminary 10-page statement tomorrow (Friday) before publishing his final report in June.

15 October 2018

 

 

Regulator sets out ideas for better assisted rail travel

The rail regulator has revealed a series of draft measures designed to force the industry to improve the assistance it provides to disabled passengers.

Many of the proposals suggested by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) yesterday (Wednesday) aim to address key concerns that have been highlighted publicly by disabled campaigners.

They include measures to make it less likely that users of mobility scooters will be prevented from boarding trains, improvements to information on whether on-board accessible toilets are out-of-order, better training for staff – with disabled people involved in its delivery – and measures aimed at ensuring that more rail replacement services are wheelchair-accessible.

There is also the possibility of a significant reduction in the standard notice required from disabled passengers seeking to book assistance before they travel, which could be reduced to two hours from the 24 hours notice often required, although other options are also included.

ORR says it wants all rail operators to introduce schemes offering compensation to passengers if they fail to receive the assistance they booked in advance.

And it says it wants the industry to introduce text relay services that would allow passengers with hearing or speech impairments to book assistance using text-to speech translation services.

The ORR consultation will eventually lead to the first changes to the rules governing how Network Rail and train operating companies ensure their services are accessible to disabled people – through their Disabled People’s Protection Policies (DPPPs) – since 2009.

The DPPPs are important because every train and station operator must have one and they have a legal obligation to comply with them.

Other suggested ORR changes include improving and standardising information on assistance and making improvements to the process of booking that assistance.

There are also plans to introduce a formal procedure for communication between staff at different stations to ensure that passengers who have asked for help “consistently receive assistance to alight the train”.

ORR also wants to ensure that wheelchair-users are told when buying a first-class ticket if there are no spaces for wheelchair-users in the first-class carriage.

The suggested changes have come following months of consultations with disabled people’s organisations, passenger bodies and the rail industry.

Few disabled campaigners have yet had a chance to read the 116-page report, but initial reactions suggest many of the measures will be welcomed, although further improvements to the document will be needed.

Doug Paulley, who has raised publicly at least two of the key issues raised by the report, said his initial impression was that the report included some positive recommendations, but that there would need to be improvements through the consultation process.

He particularly highlighted the section on rail replacement services, an issue he has raised, and said the ORR needed to strengthen the new guidance in that area.

He said DPPPs were “important”, and he added: “It’s the key document that sets out in detail what each train operating company is legally required to do to make its services accessible for disabled people.”

The crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who has repeatedly highlighted cases of discrimination against herself and other disabled passengers on public transport – and last month suggested she would write to the Department for Transport every time she heard of a disabled person having an access problem on a train – said she would welcome anything that made rail transport easier for disabled people.

She said: “The number of complaints I am receiving is unacceptable.”

She said she would send ORR a full response to its consultation.

Stephen Brookes, the government’s rail sector champion and an ambassador for Disability Rights UK, welcomed the ORR report.

He said: “I am particularly pleased to see that the consultation will examine new arrangements to strengthen communication between stations and measures to introduce greater accountability for assistance provision.

This all too frequent failure has been a regular criticism shared with me by disabled people in my work.”

He said he also welcomed the plan to produce “a more concise passenger leaflet focused on what to expect before travelling, at the station, on the train and if things go wrong.

The publicity currently available is not consistent and nor is the on-the-ground implementation, so any simplification has to be a real and significant win.”

John Larkinson, ORR’s chief executive, says in the report: “We know from our previous research and consultation that more needs to be done: to raise awareness of what assistance is available and how to get it; to improve the reliability of this service; and to provide staff with the information, skills and confidence to give the best customer service possible – including to those with hidden disabilities.

We are encouraged by the good practice we have found, but we have been clear with train operators and Network Rail that they must consider what more they can do in these areas.”

ORR will consider the responses to its consultation – which ends on 18 January – and then publish its final revised guidance in spring 2019.

15 November 2018

 

 

Petition raising fears over ‘freedom deprivation bill’ tops 100,000 signatures

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition demanding the government makes major changes to a bill that campaigners say would make it easier for many disabled people to be deprived of their freedom.

The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) only launched the petition at the end of last month, but within about two weeks 100,000 people had added their names.

That petition and other campaigning and lobbying efforts appear to have had some impact, with ministers due to announce some amendments to the mental capacity (amendment) bill today (Thursday), although it is unlikely that they will meet all ROFA’s demands.

ROFA’s petition raises grave concerns about the bill – which is set for its report stage in the House of Lords on Wednesday (21 November) – and the powers it will grant care home managers, local authorities and NHS organisations.

The bill will affect an estimated 300,000 people in England and Wales with impairments including dementia, learning difficulties and brain injuries.

It will introduce a new system, Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), to replace the crisis-ridden Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS), for service-users who are said to need to be deprived of their liberty as part of their care but are considered to lack the mental capacity to consent to those arrangements.

The bill is based on recommendations by the Law Commission but critics say it is “significantly different” from the commission’s own draft bill and omits most of its most progressive elements.

The petition warns that the bill as it stands “will make it easier to deprive someone of their liberty if they are judged unable to make decisions for themselves” and could mean disabled people being “forced to live in care homes because it’s cheaper and easier for the local council even though it’s not what they want or need”.

ROFA – backed by members including People First (Self Advocacy), Inclusion London, and the consultancy Changing Perspectives – believes the bill will significantly weaken protections.

Decisions on deprivation of liberty are currently taken with the help of an independent assessment that “considers the opinions and wishes of the person and makes sure the care that is provided is what the person needs”, says ROFA.

But the petition says the bill would scrap most of these independent assessments and would often give decision-making power instead to care home managers, “who have an interest in keeping people in their care homes”.

An independent assessor will only be asked to carry out a review if the service-user is believed to be objecting to the deprivation of their liberty, and it will be up to the care home manager to decide if that person is objecting.

Similar powers would be given to managers in local authorities, hospitals or NHS clinical commissioning groups when considering LPS for disabled people in other care settings.

Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns for People First, said he hoped the number of people responding to the petition would raise awareness with the general public and “put pressure on the government and MPs to change and improve the bill”.

Among his key concerns with the bill are the lack of an automatic right to independent advocacy; the conflict of interest created by a care home manager having responsibility for arranging assessments, as it would “give them permission to put their financial gain over someone’s wishes to live independently”; and the lack of a duty to promote liberty.

He also said there was “a lack of a right to accessible information” about the LPS process, which “is vital if a person is going to be a part of what is happening”.

Lee said the bill had been “rushed through and rather than look at any of the main issues with the Mental Capacity Act and get it right, rights and safeguards have been stripped away. 

Real research needs to be done around the definition of deprivation of liberty, when it is applied and what it covers. 

For now, this bill has just made it easier for people to be deprived of their liberty by taking away their rights.”

He said the bill “gives people who already have power, more power over the decisions in a person’s life”, and he warned that if it was passed in its current state it would “send the rights of disabled people back around 40 years”.

He said he feared a worst case scenario with nothing to stop a care home manager “locking up a person for the rest of their lives, just through the simple fact that they are the ones making the decisions about whether a person has any say about where they live, whether a person has an assessment and whether they get an advocate”.

He added: “For me, this law will lead to further institutionalisation of people with learning difficulties and it is unacceptable that in this day in age, after fighting so hard to be treated as equal under the law, that this bill can come along and treat us like objects.”

Simone Aspis, director of Changing Perspectives, said the response to the petition was “fabulous” in such a short period of time.

She said the legislation “starts from the wrong place” and needed to begin instead with “the promotion of people’s liberty” rather than its current starting-point of creating a legal framework to allow care homes and local authorities to deprive someone of their freedom.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said the bill would “reform a broken system and reduce the number of vulnerable people waiting for access to essential protections by simplifying the process and making it less burdensome.

We agree safeguards must be protected. That is why the proposed model has all authorisations decided by a responsible body, and independent oversight from approved mental capacity professionals.

We are also considering changes to strengthen safeguards, such as the explicit exclusion of care home staff from conducting assessments.”

15 November 2018

 

 

Care charges are driving disabled people into debt, says report

Charging disabled people for their care and support is driving many of them into debt and forcing them to cut their spending on food or heating, according to new research by a network of disabled people’s organisations and their allies.

The study by the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG) found that four in 10 (41 per cent) of those responding to a survey had experienced a substantial increase in charges over the last couple of years.

Nearly half (43 per cent) had had to cut back on their spending on food to pay for care.

And two-fifths of respondents (40 per cent) said they had had to cut back on heating costs to pay for care and support.

The study concludes that charging for the support disabled people need to go about their daily lives is “unfair, counterproductive and undermines the primary purpose of the care and support system”.

The effect of charging, it says, is often to “drive disabled people into care poverty, and to create confusion, stress and complexity in an already overly burdened bureaucratic system” through what is effectively “an unhelpful and unnecessary tax on disability and old age”.

The study analysed the results of an online survey of more than 600 disabled people who had received a community care assessment, and freedom of information responses from all 152 English local authorities with social care responsibilities.

All but one of the local authorities – Hammersmith and Fulham – impose charges on some of their service-users.

The study heard from one disabled person who benefited from Hammersmith and Fulham’s no-charging policy, who said: “Social care is a human right. It’s an essential service like education or the NHS.

It’s not ethical to charge for it, in effect it’s an extra tax.”

Charging for care, says the study, only raises “modest” sums of money – about 12 per cent of spending on care and support – but has a “profound impact on the individual”, with an average charge per year of more than £2,000 (£2,243).

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who chairs ILSG, said: “Support provided under the Care Act is meant to improve the wellbeing and independence of disabled people.

By charging many for that support, the system is making a mockery of the spirit of the legislation and causing worry, stress and poverty.

Charging raises a relatively small sum of money which is pushing up costs elsewhere.

The financial impact of personal care neglect such as pressure sores, kidney infections or falls, as well as stress related illnesses, means finding extra resources for the NHS.”

The group called on the government to scrap all charges.

But if it refused to do that, ILSG said, it should introduce other measures to “mitigate” against the “worst effects” of charging.

These should include monitoring the number of people who decline or decide to stop receiving council-funded support after a charge is imposed or increased.

Only 17 of the 152 councils said they knew how many people had declined or abandoned social care packages they had been assessed as needing once they were told how much they would have to pay.

All councils should also carry out an equality impact assessment of their charging policies, said the group.

And it said that all councils should introduce an “early warning” system to identify people getting into charges-related debt, introduce a “breathing space” before any debt collection action is taken, and provide access to support to manage such debts.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, one of ILSG’s members, said: “If councils are to persist in this iniquitous tax on disability, they must at least reintroduce some consistency and clarity to their approach.

The many councils that have failed to conduct an equality impact assessment – and to monitor the numbers of disabled people driven out of the care system by charging – must also get their act together.”

The government is expected to publish its long-awaited green paper on adult social care funding within weeks.

The Independent Living Strategy Group has been working on protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights to independent living in England since 2013.

Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.

15 November 2018

 

 

High court go-ahead for challenge to government’s ‘failure to ensure secret vote’

A disabled woman is challenging the government’s failure to ensure that she can vote secretly and independently in elections.

The high court has granted permission for the case being brought against the Cabinet Office by Rachael Andrews to proceed to a full hearing, after the court decided that her case was “arguable”.

Andrews, from Norwich, who is blind, said she had repeatedly been left distressed and upset by a system that either left her unsure whether she had voted for the right candidate, or relying on an election official to tell her whether she had marked the correct box on the ballot paper.

She said: “It is the fact that it is not secret that distresses me so much. As a disabled person I am fairly used to asking for people’s help.

But the fact that I have to ask somebody to do something that is so simple, and it still isn’t private, it just distresses and upsets me more than I can explain.

I feel like I am 12 years old, like I am not a confident, whole person.”

Andrews has already secured one legal victory, over her local authority, Broadland council, following its failure to enable her to vote independently and secretly at the 2015 election.

Since then she has cast her vote in the 2016 European Union referendum and at the 2017 general election, but on both occasions – despite the council’s best efforts – she has still been unable to vote independently and in secret.

She blames the government, because she says the tactile voting device (TVD) – a plastic template placed over the ballot paper that is supposed to allow blind people to vote in secret – is not fit for purpose.

She is challenging the government’s decision to designate the TVD as a suitable device to allow blind people to vote without any need for assistance under the Representation of the People Act 1983.

But she is also arguing for her right to a secret ballot under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Andrews successfully settled her claim against Broadland council for failing to have a TVD available for the 2015 general election.

But although she said its council officers have since done “everything they can within the law” to help her at subsequent elections, the system is still failing her.

In 2016, when voting in the referendum, she was not sure if she had placed her cross in the correct box and had to ask the presiding officer to tell her.

And last year, at the general election, she tried to use a postal vote, and was assisted by a member of council staff, but still had to use a TVD.

She said: “To this day I do not know if I put the cross in the place that I intended to vote.

He read everything out to me and I am assuming he also saw my vote as well because he was literally sat right next to me.”

Andrews, who is represented by human rights lawyers Leigh Day, said that other countries had introduced systems that allow blind voters to vote more easily, including introducing “audio voting booths” and telephone voting.

Graham Kirwan, who was forced to take legal action against his own local council over its failure to make the process of registering to vote and voting accessible to him as a visually-impaired person, said: “I fully appreciate the frustrating difficulties Rachael repeatedly faces having, like many other visually-impaired voters, faced them myself.”

He pointed to devices such as audio and magnification aids which could assist independent and secret voting, and said the government was “simply kicking accessible voting into the long grass”.

He added: “I 100 per cent support Rachael’s legal challenge and wish her all the best with her action.”

The government has argued in correspondence with Andrews’ lawyers that the legal challenge is unnecessary because it is already addressing the issue.

This refers to pledges in its much-criticised response to a consultation on how to make voting more accessible.

The government talked in its response in September about promoting guidance, improving training, and the possibility of allowing disabled voters to try out practice ballots in advance of elections.

And it said it would consider what improvements could be made for voters with sight loss “and look to make the necessary legislative changes when a suitable opportunity arises”.

But Andrews’ lawyers point out that the government’s response did not say what these improvements would be, or when it would change the law.

The Cabinet Office said it could not comment on ongoing legal cases.

But a Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “We consult with disabled individuals, and organisations that represent them such as RNIB regularly, to hear about their experiences of voting and recommendations on how government can make elections more accessible.

Every voice matters and this government is committed to building a democracy that works for all.”

The government’s accessibility of elections working group is set to meet in January, and will discuss again the improvements that could be made to the support provided to visually-impaired voters in polling stations.

But Andrews said: “I have always voted in general elections. I see it as a very important civic duty and feel very strongly that I should simply be afforded the same right to vote independently and in secret as everyone else. 

Sadly, I believe that many blind voters are currently put off voting because of the difficulties they face.

I am disappointed that it has been necessary to commence legal proceedings but am keen that the government stops dragging its feet and takes action to allow me to vote independently and secretly in time for the next general election.” 

Sean Humber, head of Leigh Day’s human rights department, said: “The provisions made for blind voters by the government are quite simply not fit for purpose.

The right to vote freely, independently and in secret is fundamental to any democracy.

We hope that the courts will hear our client’s challenge and order the government to reconsider the assistance they provide for blind voters.”

15 November 2018

 

 

Disabled activist calls for evidence of blue badge delays

An activist whose local authority warns disabled people that it could take up to 12 weeks to renew their blue parking badges is calling for disabled people in other parts of the country to pass on their experiences of problems and delays in the system.

It took Bob Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People, more than six weeks to receive his new badge from Wolverhampton council, although he had been warned that it could take even longer.

He believes such delays are “unacceptable” and are not restricted to his local authority, and that other applicants face even longer delays.

Now he wants to hear from disabled people in other areas who have had similar problems*.

Wolverhampton council admitted this week that it warns disabled people to expect it to take up to 12 weeks for their applications to be dealt with.

Williams-Findlay pointed to a Disability News Service news story written nearly four years ago which described delays of up to 12 weeks in dealing with applications, and he said this showed little had changed around the country since then.

The system was introduced by the coalition government in 2011 and saw councils told to carry out more independent mobility assessments, while the government introduced a national database of blue badges.

The new electronic badges are sent out by a private contractor, Northgate Public Services, part of the Japanese IT multinational NEC Corporation.

But councils kept responsibility for dealing with badge applications and had to source occupational therapists or other health professionals to carry out the assessments.

Williams-Findlay said the current system was “oppressive, stressful and discriminatory” and the weeks he had been left without a badge had made his life “more disabling” because he had been deprived of “being able to park and participate within society”.

He said the delays curtailed the rights of disabled people under article 19 (on independent living) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Williams-Findlay said the Department for Transport (DfT) was guilty of institutional discrimination and that the centralised part of the system was “not fit for practice”, while the delays were “unacceptable”.

He left it too late to renew his badge and only applied to renew it a day or two before it expired, but he filled in the application form online on 28 September, taking written evidence to the council in person the same day.

On 25 October, he received a letter – dated 18 October – which said his application had been successful, and that once he paid the £10 fee the council would order a new badge, which would take up to 21 days to arrive. His badge eventually arrived on 8 November.

A DfT spokeswoman said the delays were “primarily a matter for local authorities, who are responsible for processing applications, and timescales do vary”.

She added: “The department has not been made aware of any significant problems.”

But she said the department was currently developing “an improved online application process”.

She said: “There have been no problems with the private contractor, whose performance is monitored regularly.”

A Wolverhampton council spokeswoman said: “Our advertised timescales are 12 weeks (from the time of receiving all relevant supporting documentation) for processing.”

And she said the council website advises applicants to apply 10 weeks before their badge is due to expire.

She said she understood that the badges were “very important” because “having a blue badge can significantly change a person’s independence, which motivates us to continue to improve our service by reviewing our processes and listening to feedback received from our customers”.

She said the council had “recently updated its webpage to be clearer on the process and pre-requisites”, and that the government was updating the blue badge application form after consulting with users.

Asked whether she believed delays were a national problem, she said: “Each council has a statutory duty to administer Blue Badges on behalf of the central government.

We are unable to comment on other councils.”

Another disabled activist, Barbara Lisicki, a trainer and writer, has told Williams-Findlay that the renewal process in her London council area was “shoddy, unclear and utterly useless”.

She said the centralised online system was “not fit for purpose, especially as it is misleading and gives incomplete, poorly phrased instructions”.

If a local councillor had not intervened on her behalf to speed up the process, she would have been left unable to park in the accessible bay outside her house, she said.

A third disabled activist has told Williams-Findlay that she was told by her local authority in the south of England to expect a 12-week wait for her blue badge.

*Any disabled people with reports of problems or delays with renewing or applying for a blue badge can email Bob Williams-Findlay at baggiebob1@icloud.com

15 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:09
Nov 112018
 

[This post is a copy of a post (with permission) from the Mental Health Resistance Network, that we have publish in support of their campaign.]

Front page graphic, reading 'Now that

Mental Health Resistance Network

Our Agenda, not your agenda

We Demand …

 

We reject the medical model of mental distress

Psychiatry decontextualises our distress. There is little evidence that the cause is biological and overwhelming evidence that it is caused by trauma and social injustices. Medication may act as a painkiller but cannot “cure” our distress.

We demand:

  1. A public inquiry into the harm caused by psychiatric drugs and ECT.

  2. Research and manufacture of drugs to be nationalised to remove the profit motive.

  3. Provision of treatment where medication is refused, and an end to forced treatment.

  4. An inquiry into violence and abuse of patients in psychiatric wards and in the community.

  5. An end to control and restraint in psychiatric wards and community settings.

  6. A public inquiry into institutional racism, sexism, classism and LGBT discrimination in psychiatry and all services.

  7. Culturally appropriate services to be provided to members of the BAME communities which recognise that racism is a causative factor in mental distress.

  8. A fully funded, national 24 hour suicide prevention and support service.

  9. The provision of alternative treatments such as Open Dialogue, Hearing Voices Networks and holistic therapies.

  10. CAMHS waiting lists to be investigated and all Cygnet Hospitals in the UK to be shut down forthwith.

  11. Long term specialist mental health care if needed – no discharge from services to save money.

  12. Fully funded mental health and social care. An end to payment by results – results are subjective.

  13. Crisis houses be made available to anyone who needs them and to be staffed with fully qualified therapists and mental health nurses instead of poorly qualified support workers with little or no training.

  14. Talking therapies that are trauma informed to be freely available.

  15. Services to be user led including a review of the Mental Health Act.

  16. User involvement in statutory services to be free from service provider control.

  17. An end to the increasing medicalisation of children and adolescents.

  18. Our physical healthcare must not be dismissed as being ‘all in our minds.’

  19. An independent body to oversee the CMHTs to ensure good practice and adherence to NICE guidelines.

We reject the neoliberal model that decontextualises our distress

Like the medical model, the neoliberal model of mental distress locates the cause of distress/madness within the individual and not in society; our thinking and attitudes are blamed without reference to social context. This model uses CBT, Mindfulness, positive psychology and the recovery approach as putative treatments. We reject the recovery approach outright with its insinuation that our continued distress is due to our lack of effort. Any measuring of the quality of our mental health will be done by us and will be measured against our values, not based on how useful we are to rich employers. We consider short term CBT and Mindfulness to have limited value. Positive psychology is not a substitute for proper housing, a secure income, free healthcare and a more equal society.

This model, like the medical model, absolves society from any responsibility for both the causes and treatment of mental distress.

We deplore the use of treatment as a Trojan horse to smuggle into our psyches the beliefs and values that benefit the rich. All mental health care should be for the sole purpose of alleviating our distress and enabling us to fulfil our goals in life. Any other motive is brainwashing and abuse.

The medical and neoliberal models are not social models.

We demand a social model of mental distress

The social model locates the cause and remedy of mental distress within the social, economic, political and cultural context in which it occurs; it takes account of personal trauma along with our material circumstances, societal inequality and discrimination.

When large numbers of people become unwell, we need to look beyond biology and consider what is happening at the societal level.” Danny Dorling, Professor in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

We demand that you acknowledge that our material conditions affect our mental health and prioritise making these adequate. All people who live with mental distress, including those with addictions, must have secure housing and income. Failure to meet this demand is uncivilized and consciously cruel.

We demand:

  1. An end to the abusive practices of the DWP: the degrading and stressful assessments for benefits (the Work Capability Assessment and PIP assessments), unrealistic conditionality and all sanctions.

  2. Universal Credit to be stopped and scrapped immediately.

  3. A public inquiry into benefit deaths with legal action taken against any parliamentarian implicated in these deaths.

  4. Legal action to be taken against health professionals and benefits assessors who cause harm by colluding with the removal of social security.

  5. GPs to be mandated to provide supporting letters for benefit claims for free.

  6. Free and independent social security advice for everyone claiming benefits.

  7. That the DWP take full responsibility for obtaining further medical evidence from claimants’ own healthcare professionals.

  8. Our financial and housing security be treated as a priority by all health workers.

  9. Private companies to be removed from carrying out benefits assessments.

  10. People held in prisons to be given proper access to mental health care while detained and thereafter.

  11. An immediate end to the lie that work can cure mental distress.

  12. That adjustments to be made to the workplace are based on a social model. CBT, resilience training and the Recovery approach are not adjustments to the workplace, they are adjustments to the worker.

  13. Access to a free, specialist, independent mental health advocacy service for people both in and out of work.

  14. The opportunity to pursue education and employment of our choice and at our own pace.

  15. The admission that unemployment is structural and is not the fault of the individual.

  16. Practical help to be made available to everyone in mental distress who needs it (for example material help for parents to care for a child, provision of personal assistants, greater support for carers and so on).

  17. The abolition of the Work and Health Programme and the merging of health services with the DWP including the removal of all work coaches from NHS settings.

  18. An end to the unethical use of psychology to force conformity to a political ideology.

  19. Removal of the Behavioural Insights Team from the lives of people in mental distress.

  20. Immediate steps to be taken to end the material inequality that is driving our mental health crisis.

  21. An end to the privatisation of the NHS and reversal of privatisation already in place.

  22. The resignation of Sir Simon Stevens who is overseeing the dismantling of the NHS.

  23. The resignation of Sir Simon Wessely who is unfit to Chair the review of the Mental Health Act because of his involvement with the discredited PACE Trials and his participation in the “Malingering and Illness Deception Conference” and book of the same name.

  24. Urgent action to be taken to undo the damage caused by the ‘scrounger’narrative used to prime the public to accept the abuse of disabled people.

  25. The reinstatement of day centres.

  26. Access to all areas of social and personal life to be ensured by making reasonable adjustments to our social and physical environment, with Survivors leading the process to identify what adjustments we need.

  27. Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and Lord David Freud be brought to justice for their wilful cruelty towards people in mental distress.

  28. The recommendations made by the UNCRPD following its investigation into violations of the rights of disabled people in the UK must be implemented in full and as a matter of urgency.

  29. The plan to “make efficiency savings” i.e. cuts, of £1 billion to mental health services by 2020 announced by Lord Carter of Coles* must be dropped. * Independent Report for the Department of Health 2016 called “Operational Productivity and Performance in English NHS Acute Hospitals: Warranted Variations.”

  30. That public events and online information, especially from governmental bodies, MUST be available on BSL (British Sign Language) and easy read all the time.

  31. That helplines be accessible for people with speech and hearing issues, i.e. live chat and video chat with the option of the help of BSL (British Sign Language) interpreting.

We reject large charities that claim to advocate for us, for example National Mind. Those with DWP and NHS contracts have a conflict of interest. They are no different from the huge corporations that are only concerned with profit margins. We speak for ourselves, Mental Health charities do not represent us.

We reject the Westminster Health Forum Keynote Seminar on “The Next Steps for Mental Health Services.” It is not concerned with our best interests and is therefore illegitimate.

We declare that the speakers at this forum are seeking to profit financially from our mental distress; are causing our mental distress; do not care about people in mental distress; and are implicated in the deaths of benefit claimants for failing to demand an end to DWP abuse.

If you are not with us in resisting austerity, inequality, victim blaming and the culture of profiteering from our mental distress, then you are the cause of our distress.

*We understand the term “Survivor” to mean a self-identification for all Survivors of the mental health system and people with addictions, autism, psychosocial disabilities and neurodiversity.

Dedicated to the memory of Robert Dellar mental health campaigner and writer

1964 – 2016

 Posted by at 22:23
Nov 022018
 

DPAC Submission to Permanent Peoples Tribunal on migration, London, 2018.

It is of course extremely important to challenge the exploitation of migrants and refugees in all contexts. However, using evidence from work with disabled asylum seekers, we suggest that campaigns for the ‘right to work’ need to be treated with caution for a number of reasons:

  1. Campaigns for the ‘right’ to work should not ignore the barriers to finding and being offered work which is achievable, non-exploitative and worthwhile. We need only look at the experiences of Disabled citizens and people on benefits, to predict that the ‘right’ would soon become an obligation irrespective of the barriers that are faced.
  2. To build effective resistance to the injustice faced by asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers, we must recognise that this does not exist in isolation from the injustice faced by the wider population. In the context of citizens’ efforts to resist systematic pressure to find paid work, whatever the cost to themselves and those they care for, we suggest focussing on the ‘right’ to work may hinder chances to build a broader movement.
  3. Calling for the ‘right’ to work risks buying into capitalist definitions of ‘work’ as paid employment, obscuring the unpaid material and emotional work associated with survival which is inherent in the search for asylum. If what we are really calling for is a stable income sufficient to pay for living costs, respect, ability to make worthwhile contributions … then that is what we should be calling for. Those attributes are not automatically associated with paid employment.

Before continuing, it is important to stress that reservations about campaigning for the right to work must be tempered by awareness that for refused asylum seekers, denied all support, the ‘right’ to work, even for a few hours, could enable a person to eat without risking a criminal record which could hasten deportation. In that context, people’s immediate survival needs must be prioritised over objectives for longer term justice. Similarly, it is unnecessarily frustrating for people who have skills, capacity and energy, to be prevented from finding paid employment. We are not therefore arguing against campaigns for the right to paid employment as a short-term measure. We are suggesting such campaigns are no long-term solution, and the risks to the wider movement need to be recognised.


An asylum seeker support worker writes:

I have recently been working with an asylum seeker who experiences serious mental distress, has no support and is living on the street. I am referring to this individual because I know him, but the situation is of course not uncommon. Removing rights from those whose asylum claims are refused is one of the deliberate consequences of the hostile environment, but this problem goes much wider. There are increasing numbers of citizens living on the streets in similar circumstances.

The individual I am referring to is articulate, intelligent and resourceful, however he cannot focus on any one conversation because he is also listening to ongoing conversations with voices audible only to himself. He is clearly distressed in ways that are painfully visible to observers. This person spends his days searching for food, somewhere to sleep, wash, and ways to find some form of support and security. None of this could be classed as leisure. It is the unpaid work of survival.

This person talks about how the only paid work available to him is illegal, exploitative and low paid. He is aware that if he were to take such work, he risks getting a criminal record and so further reducing his chance of ever getting leave to remain. He says his priority is to get the right to work. However, on further discussion, he elaborates that what he actually wants is somewhere safe to live, a steady source of income, security, support, community and something constructive to do. I suggest it is unlikely that these needs would be met with the forms of work that would be open to him, with or without the legal right. It should not be assumed that the work currently open to him would suddenly be available with a living wage, if he were to get the legal right to work. Furthermore, we can see from the wider population how easily the ‘right’ to work becomes an unrealisable obligation. The last thing this person, or anyone else, needs is to be further vilified for not having paid employment.

The barriers to asylum seekers, and particularly disabled asylum seekers, finding non-exploitative employment go well beyond the legal right. I am aware of people with refugee status, including those selected for the Vulnerable Person’s Relocation Scheme who have the right to work, but who complain of the additional stress and pressure caused by having to look for work, when there are so many barriers to finding, and being offered, anything suitable.

It would be interesting to find out from asylum and refugee support organisations, what proportion of employees with the legal right to work, have lived experience of forced migration, destitution and disability, including serious mental distress. If personal observations are correct that the proportion is not high, even where lived experience is highly relevant, then it would suggest that the barriers to paid work go far beyond legal entitlement. If such organisations could lead the way by respecting the knowledge gained by lived experience, and providing paid employment with a living wage, they could then also support others in reducing the barriers.

Most importantly, the asylum sector should not be seen in isolation. It is not as if there is a ready supply of rewarding, worthwhile work available to citizens in similar positions of destitution and mental distress. While the asylum sector is campaigning for the right to work, there are wider campaigns for the right not to work. A search of #dwp crimes reveals evidence of the suffering and many lives that are being lost when support is removed from citizens who are unable to exercise the supposed ‘right’ to work.

In this context, perhaps a more constructive focus of campaigns would be on building a broader movement, and working together for the rights to a regular income, support, housing, respect, contribution, community, security…. Together, we should challenge the idea that there is anything intrinsically positive about the right to work in a capitalist economy.

Rebecca Yeo


The hearing is a public event, click this link if you wish to attend

Date and Time

Sat, 3 Nov 2018, 09:30 –

Sun, 4 Nov 2018, 16:00 GMT

Location

Friends House

173-177 Euston Road

London

NW1 2BJ

 Posted by at 16:10
Nov 012018
 

DWP refuses to say if it followed death review advice on ‘threatening’ universal credit

Ministers are refusing to say if they acted on the recommendations of a secret review that linked the death of a benefit claimant with the “threatening” conditions they were forced to accept when signing up to universal credit.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has breached freedom of information laws by failing to say whether it followed the recommendation by one of its own internal process reviews to make universal credit’s so-called “claimant commitment” less threatening following the death.

DWP’s failure came as the chancellor, Philip Hammond, attempted in this week’s budget to calm concerns about the rollout of the troubled new system by announcing extra funding of £1 billion over five-and-a-half years that he said would help the migration of claimants of other benefits onto universal credit from next year.

He also announced £1.7 billion a year to increase universal credit work allowances.

But critics have said the extra money will do little to address growing concerns that flaws at the heart of the universal credit system are exposing disabled people and other claimants to strict conditions and sanctions, resulting in severe mental distress and extreme poverty.

Only last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how an autistic woman said she had been left without vital financial support for nearly two years because she could not cope with the face-to-face interview she had to undergo to complete her universal credit claim.

Now DWP is facing questions over why it is refusing to say if it followed the recommendations of its own internal review to make the claimant commitment less threatening, following the death of a universal credit claimant.

Only the barest details of the death are available, describing only the recommendations made by the review.

But those details show that a panel of reviewers who examined the circumstances around the death concluded that it seemed “excessive” for DWP to include eight references to benefit sanctions and how much money a claimant would lose if they breached their claimant commitment.

The claimant commitment sets out the “responsibilities” that a claimant has to accept in return for receiving universal credit, and “the consequences of not meeting them”.

An examination of guidance on the claimant commitment on DWP’s website suggests – although it does not prove – that the department has ignored the panel’s recommendation, as it has not been updated since April 2016. 

The claimant commitment review was carried out at some point between April 2016 and June 2018.

Following a freedom of information request submitted by DNS, DWP had 20 working days to say whether it had followed the panel’s recommendation to “reconsider the wording of the Claimant Commitment”, along with recommendations made in 11 other internal process reviews, all of which were carried out between April 2016 and June 2018, and all but three of which examined circumstances that led to the death of a benefit claimant.

But DWP’s freedom of information department failed to respond to the request submitted by DNS on 28 September, breaching its Freedom of Information Act duties.

DWP’s press office refused to comment on the failure to respond to the request, other than to say that its freedom of information team would “be in touch”.

A DWP spokeswoman refused to say why the team had failed to respond to the request.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “rotten to the core” with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.

In June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.

And in July, employment minister Alok Sharma was asked by MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee why the benefits of hundreds of sick and disabled universal credit claimants were apparently being sanctioned, even though they should not have had to meet any of the strict conditions imposed by the system.

In the same month, further concerns were raised by the committee about disabled people with high support needs who have to claim universal credit and face the possibility of strict conditions – such as being forced to carry out hours of job searches every week – as they wait for a work capability assessment.

1 November 2018

 

 

Concerns over industry’s repeated objections to councils’ accessible homes plans

Representatives of the home-building industry are engaged in a countrywide campaign to defeat attempts by councils to ensure more accessible homes are built in their areas, research by Disability News Service (DNS) has shown.

Home Builders Federation (HBF) has lodged “worrying” objections to plans for accessible housing drafted by at least 15 local authorities in England since March.

The objections to councils’ draft local plans concern their proposed targets for the proportion of new homes that should be built to accessible housing standards.

HBF has repeatedly objected to targets describing the proportion of new homes that should be built to the basic M4(2)* accessible housing standard and also to those for new homes built to the stricter M4(3) standard for wheelchair-accessible properties.

Both the government standards are currently optional, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called last week for them to become mandatory, in its major report on equality and human rights across Britain.

DNS has found HBF objections raised since March to draft local plans drawn up by more than 15 local authorities, including Liverpool City Council, Sevenoaks District Council, Reading Borough Council, East Cambridgeshire District Council, Kettering Borough Council, Darlington Borough Council, Sunderland City Council and Middlesbrough Council.

Each of the objections is critical of the council’s attempts to impose targets for local housing developments that would see a certain proportion of new homes built to M4(2) and M4(3) standards.

HBF describes itself as “the principal representative body of the house-building industry in England and Wales”.

Its membership includes “multi-national PLCs, regional developers and small, local builders” and its members account for more than four-fifths of all new housing built for sale in England and Wales at market prices and “a large proportion of newly built affordable housing”.

In response to Liverpool’s draft plans, HBF says: “The HBF does not consider that this policy is required, it is considered that local needs can be met without the introduction of the optional housing standards.”

It calls for the policy to be “deleted in its entirety” or, if the council retained the targets, “ensure they have the appropriate evidence to support this policy”.

In the objection to the Sevenoaks plan, it says: “It cannot be sufficient to state that there is an ageing population who are more likely to require such homes.

Our aging population is a national concern and one faced by all areas. If this were sufficient justification then the Government would have made the standard mandatory.

Therefore we do not consider the Council to have provided the evidence required by national policy to justify all new homes being built to the optional standard M4(2).”

HBF even objected to Sunderland’s proposal to require just 10 per cent of larger new developments to be built to the M4(2) standard, which it says was “not considered to be sound as it is not justified or consistent with national policy”.

DNS was first alerted to HBF’s frequent objections to local accessible housing plans by Cllr Pam Thomas, a wheelchair-user and a prominent Labour member of Liverpool City Council.

She was not available to comment this week, but she told a fringe meeting at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool in September: “The law doesn’t help us at the moment.

We want to [ensure more accessible housing] through our local plan but some developers and the Home Builders Federation in particular objected, as they do everywhere.”

She told the meeting that HBF objected to such plans at every opportunity.

An EHRC spokeswoman said this week: “Inappropriate or inaccessible housing is increasingly leaving disabled people trapped and isolated within their own homes.

This is unacceptable in a modern society. The objections from Home Builders Federation are worrying and demonstrate the concerning attitudes that we raised in our recent housing inquiry.

Local authorities told us about their frustration at the system which pitches them against developers who challenge the viability of proposals for accessible housing.

The situation would be greatly improved if building regulations were amended to ensure that all new houses were built to a good minimum standard of accessibility and adaptability.”

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, president of the Liberal Democrats and a wheelchair-user, who spoke about the accessible housing crisis in a House of Lords debate last week, told DNS that it was “concerning that local councils are trying to do the right thing but are being pushed back by developers”.

She said that M4(2) homes were “designed to be inclusive and flexible for a whole range of households”, and that the government should amend building regulations to ensure that they become the “mandatory minimum” for all new homes, “especially given the very small extra building cost per housing unit and the reduction in costs of adaptations at a later stage”. 

She added: “This saving is much more stark when health and social care costs such as domiciliary care, residential care [and] hospital stays are added into the picture.”

Baroness Brinton called on the government to act immediately on advice from parliamentary committees, including the Equality Act 2010 and disability committee, which she was a member of, and organisations such as the accessible housing charity Habinteg, and “amend the building regulations to ensure category M4(2) becomes the mandatory minimum”.

An HBF spokesman said in a statement: “Planning policy provides the opportunity for local authorities to set figures in local plans for houses to be built to M4 standards.

If they choose to do so, the planning system requires local authorities to provide evidence of the need in their area.

If they abide by this requirement their request will be supported by the local plan inspector and house builders will abide by the adopted policy.

HBF looks to ensure that local authorities are abiding by their responsibilities under the planning system and are planning for the right amount and types of homes in their areas.”

He added: “Housebuilders will adapt new dwellings to meet the purchasers’ specific requirements.

We believe that such an approach is a better way to provide the type and number of accessible homes required in a particular area as opposed to a blanket requirement for such modifications that may not reflect local need.”

HBF says it would only be able to take legal action against a council over its accessible housing policies – through a high court judicial review – if it believed a planning inspector had made an error in deciding on those plans. It has yet to take such action.

*Homes built to the M4(2) standard have 16 accessible or adaptable features, similar to the Lifetime Homes standard developed in the early 1990s to make homes more easily adaptable for lifetime use, while M4(3) homes are those that are supposed to be fully wheelchair-accessible

1 November 2018

 

 

Budget 2018: Chancellor’s billions ‘will not halt universal credit humanitarian crisis’

The chancellor’s decision to pump billions of pounds into universal credit will not halt the “humanitarian crisis” that will be caused by its systemic flaws, disabled activists have warned.

Philip Hammond announced in this week’s budget that he had found £1 billion – spread over five-and-a-half years – to ease the delayed “managed migration” process that will see about three million claimants of “legacy” benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) moved across to the new universal credit.

He also promised another £1.7 billion a year to pay for more generous work allowances for universal credit, which combines six income-related benefits into one.

Hammond began his speech on Monday by making it clear that his budget was “unashamedly” intended to help “hard-working families… people who get up early every morning… the strivers, the grafters and the carers”.

Managed migration will begin next year but will affect only about 10,000 people in 2019, before accelerating in 2020.

One of the flaws of universal credit repeatedly raised by critics is the length of time – at least five weeks, usually – that a claimant has to wait before they receive their first payment.

Among the new managed migration measures detailed in the budget documents are that claimants of income-related ESA, jobseeker’s allowance and income support will receive an extra two weeks of those payments during the transition to universal credit, but only from July 2020.

There will also be a cut, from October 2019, in the maximum rate at which universal credit advance payments can be paid back, from 40 per cent of the standard living costs allowance to 30 per cent; and, from October 2021, there will be an increase from 12 to 16 months in the length of time DWP will take to claw back these advance payments.

Budget documents also reveal that the much-delayed rollout might now not be completed until June 2024, rather than the end of 2023, once a “six month contingency” for further possible delays is taken into account.

Hammond also announced that the amount that disabled people and households with children can earn before their universal credit begins to be withdrawn – known as the work allowance – will rise by £1,000 a year from April 2019.

This will mean that those affected will keep up to £630 a year, with the measure eventually costing the government an extra £1.7 billion a year.

Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, which is campaigning to scrap universal credit altogether, dismissed any suggestion that the budget signified an end to austerity.

He said: “While tax cuts for the rich took priority, Hammond did at least find some money to appease Tory MPs’ complaints over universal credit.

It will make little real difference to claimants, however, as universal credit will still be the cause of a humanitarian crisis in this country, whatever last-minute tinkering the Tories do.

And the elephant that wasn’t allowed into the room was the extreme poverty that many disabled people are living in, even before being forced to transfer to universal credit.”

Disability Rights UK said that “while these changes may be positive all are subject to delay and overall do not remove universal credit’s delivery and design problems”. 

Dr Victoria Armstrong, chief executive of Disability North, said her organisation witnessed the “devastating impact of the roll out of universal credit on a daily basis”. 

She said: “Whilst in principle the idea to have a universal benefit could be seen as a step forward, we have seen it be used as a vehicle for cutting basic income for disabled people.  

Not only that, the way that it has been administrated is not fit for purpose, for example the unacceptable waits, pushing people further into poverty, the use of food banks. Disability North have so many examples of this.  

Therefore, we broadly welcome the £1 billion to manage the migration process, but much of this should not be thrown at the DWP, or even Citizens Advice, but should be going to local, user-led organisations like ours so that people can be supported to understand and access the system (including digital access) and appeal incorrect decisions.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said: “Pumping big money into a model failing because it is overly-simplistic and over-reliant on technology won’t solve its problems.

Disabled people are among those worst affected by this government’s failing policies and politics.

It’s just hoping that continuing attacks on Labour’s leadership and talking up the end of austerity will keep the punters sweet, long enough.

We just have to hope that UK democracy is not yet so damaged that the Tories will get away with it again at the next election.”

In a blog published the day after the budget, Professor Sir Ian Diamond, the new chair of DWP’s social security advice body, the social security advisory committee, welcomed the “positive steps” on universal credit announced in the budget, but said the managed migration process was still “enormously ambitious”.

He said his committee was concerned that the government’s plans “load an unreasonable level of risk onto the claimant” and added: “We fear that, in too many cases, they may be adversely impacted by the proposals or fall out of the social security system entirely.”

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit is “rotten to the core” with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.

In June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.

And in July, employment minister Alok Sharma was asked by MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee why the benefits of hundreds of sick and disabled universal credit claimants were apparently being sanctioned, even though they should not have had to meet any of the strict conditions imposed by the system.

In the same month, further concerns were raised by the committee about disabled people with high support needs who need to claim universal credit and face the possibility of strict conditions – such as being forced to carry out hours of job searches every week – as they wait for a work capability assessment.

*For further details on the universal credit changes in the budget, see this blog by the Child Poverty Action Group’s Josephine Tucker

1 November 2018

 

 

Budget 2018: Chancellor’s ‘end of austerity’ claim ‘rings hollow’ on social care

The chancellor’s claim that the “era of austerity is finally coming to an end” and his announcement of further short-term funding for adult social care will “ring hollow” for many disabled people following years of cuts, say user-led organisations.

In this week’s budget speech, Philip Hammond provided an extra £240 million for adult social care next year, and another £410 million that will be shared with children’s social care.

There was also another £55 million for disabled facilities grants (DFGs) for this year (2018-19), although – in an error described by a Treasury press officer as “a slip of the tongue” – Hammond wrongly announced this as £45 million in his budget speech.

The government had previously agreed to increase funding for DFGs – which pay for access improvements to disabled people’s homes – from £220 million in 2015-16 to £505 million in 2019-20.

The extra funding for social care, described as “a short-term sticking plaster to stave off catastrophic collapse in social care” by Labour’s shadow minister for social care Barbara Keeley, comes ahead of a long-delayed green paper on adult social care, due by the end of the year.

Government figures released last month show the impact of long-term funding cuts.

The figures from NHS Digital show that, in real terms – allowing for inflation – spending on adult social care by English councils has fallen by six per cent since its peak in 2009-2010, from £19.16 billion to £17.93 billion in 2017-18. This figure does not allow for the continuing growth in demand for adult social care over that period.

Dr Rupert Earl, chair of the Spinal Injuries Association, was among those disabled campaigners sceptical of the difference the new social care funding would make.

He said: “The conclusion that ‘the era of austerity is coming to an end’ will ring hollow for many thousands of spinal cord-injured and other disabled people.

Our own evidence shows that the reality is very different; care packages are all too often being cut to unsafe levels, waiting times for hospital admissions and outpatient appointments are getting ever longer and disabled people are more likely to be living in poverty.”

He added: “The crisis in care funding is a reality for many and we wait to see how the modest funding promised will remedy many years of cuts.

Our advice line callers tell us of widespread variation in access and eligibility to care, delays in assessment and arbitrary caps on what is funded.”

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell said the new money for adult social care would be “largely swallowed up by the huge local authority deficit experienced up and down the country.

What little money that might be left over will be targeted at providing the same limited care for older people leaving hospital, to clear the NHS beds crisis.

Younger working age disabled adults will not get a look in, as usual.

For those desperate to progress independent living in this country, this budget is a sure sign that their human right to inclusion is not on the government agenda.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said it was a budget “from a government concerned with its survival rather than people’s wellbeing or encouraging a sustainable economy”.

He said: “For social care, it’s yet again a case of sticking plaster – too little, too late – on an inherently defective system.”

Dr Victoria Armstrong, chief executive of Disability North, said: “Any increase is welcomed, but £240 million for adult social care this year [announced last month at the Tory party conference] and £650 million for adult and children’s social care next year still falls short of what is necessary, and if this is just to plug holes in existing systems and services then that’s not going to work.

Our social care system is not fit for purpose; there are huge flaws, many of which are violating the human rights of disabled people on a daily basis, leading to further health problems and, in some cases, death.

And so an investment needs to be made in order to rethink the system, not just throw money at a system unfit for purpose.”

But she said that Disability North had seen some good health and care initiatives in the north-east, including the introduction of personal health budgets and “good use and support of direct payments in Newcastle”.

She said there needed to be “a focus on what the person at the centre of the social care wants, and the outcome or service provision shouldn’t depend upon where you live”.

Meanwhile, Spectrum Centre for Independent Living, which is based in Southampton, has produced a discussion paper aimed at shaping its own vision for social care, ahead of the publication of the government’s green paper later this year.

Spectrum said it was seeking “bold, creative and radical solutions” and wanted to “encourage everyone with an interest in the future of social care to contribute their own ideas so that we can present a new vision for social care that meets everyone’s needs in a sustainable way”.

1 November 2018

 

 

Atos threatens to call police after claimant questions PIP assessor’s mental health training

Staff working for a discredited benefit assessments contractor threatened to call the police after a claimant asked about the mental health qualifications of the nurse who was assessing his eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP).

Atos has now launched an investigation into what happened at the assessment centre in Leeds, which saw the nurse abandon Kris Weston’s assessment after just a couple of minutes.

She did not realise that Weston, a composer and trained sound engineer, had been recording the assessment.

Weston began the assessment last month by telling the nurse that he had stayed up all night because of the extreme anxiety he experiences when he has to deal with institutions.

He had spent three days putting together a 10-page description of his complex mental health problems – and what he says is the “continual failure to even listen to his problems by multiple institutions” – in the hope that the assessor would help him secure the financial and health support he needed.

He explained that he had been unfairly described in the past as “violent” by the NHS after a telephone argument, although she told him that Atos had no record of this.

She appears to have wrongly blamed the decision to refuse him a home assessment on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), when such decisions are taken by the assessment companies, Atos and Capita.

The assessor can then be heard leaving the room after Weston began asking about her experience and qualifications in mental health.

She told Weston that she was “not happy to sit in this room with you” because she said he had questioned her qualifications and was “being difficult for no reason”.

Weston, who did not raise his voice or threaten the assessor at any point in the conversation, told her: “You seem to have had a bit of an attitude from the start, a bit of a blasé attitude.

You didn’t look at me, you didn’t say hello to me, you didn’t treat me like a human.”

Despite the lack of any aggression or threats from Weston, a colleague of the assessor then told him he needed to leave the building “or we’ll call the police”, before repeating: “We’ll call the police if you don’t leave.”

Weston tried to explain to Atos staff that he had “wanted to make sure that somebody understands my illness” and added: “When ill people come in you need to have compassion, not treat them with an attitude.”

A third member of staff then denied that they had threatened to call the police, before a colleague said: “He’s just wanting an argument… just shut the door.”

Weston told Disability News Service (DNS) this week: “It seems like an outrageous scandal that someone in the pits of despair, when they are asking for help, gets treated like this.

I am quite a complex person. I just wanted to make sure the person in front of me was able to deal with it properly and had the correct qualifications.

I was actually trying to get help. I really do want help. Mental illness help should not just be for the polite who stay quiet.”

He said he had felt severely distressed and “isolated” after the assessment, but after posting the recording online he has been flooded with supportive comments on social media.

He said: “The recording represents not just me, but the hundreds of stories I have heard in only a few days since I put this on the internet, all the people that have told me their awful stories that they didn’t record.

I thought my recording would stand out as abuse but it’s actually just a blip in a sea of negligence that no private company will ever fix because corporations cannot have inherent morals and no amount of legislation is going to stop them from cutting corners for profit.

The staggering scale of the problem is more than I anticipated, to say the least. This is in fact a nationwide scandal affecting our people now.

I’m not that far off being an economic and cultural asset to my country if I could just get a clear run and be understood without being beaten down over and over again and driven to despair.

This applies to a lot of people. We are holding ourselves back by keeping people in complete stress about their food, living space and other basic human needs.

Given the resources they need, people who are suffering from the system itself could actually become an asset.

After all, injecting our resources into a failing private banking system seemed to get them back on their feet.

To think the people charged with running our country could miss this economic no-brainer is breathtaking.”

Asked for an explanation for what happened and whether Atos would apologise, a spokesman for the company said: “We are aware of the recording and an investigation is underway.”

Weston’s experience has added to years of evidence collected by DNS and other journalists, campaigners and politicians of dishonesty, unprofessional behaviour and harsh treatment delivered to benefit claimants by Atos assessors.

In one case, reported in January by DNS, an Atos nurse carrying out a PIP assessment fired questions at a disabled man’s wife while her husband was in the middle of a severe and prolonged series of epileptic seizures just a few feet away.

In February, DNS reported how more than 160 Atos assessors had had at least four complaints about their behaviour, competence and honesty made against them in three-month periods in 2016.

And in June, DNS reported how a doctor working for Atos told a gay disabled man she was assessing that his sexuality meant he was “defective” and that God needed to fix him like a “broken” car.

1 November 2018

 

 

Welsh government’s independent living decision ‘threatens support of hundreds’

The Welsh government’s decision to close its independent living grant scheme and pass the funding to local authorities could see cuts to the support packages of hundreds of disabled people, new research suggests.

Disabled campaigners say that information released by local authorities in Wales has created “extreme cause for concern” about the transition process, which is seeing funding from the interim Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) passed to the 22 councils.

WILG was set up by the Welsh government – with UK government funding – as a short-term measure to support former recipients of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) when ILF was closed in June 2015.

But the Welsh government is now closing WILG and by April next year the 22 councils will be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients in Wales.

The Welsh government’s own estimates, released to Disability News Service (DNS) last night (Wednesday), suggest that about 200 former WILG-recipients will see their support packages cut by next April.

Members of the Save WILG campaign, led by former ILF-recipient Nathan Lee Davies, submitted freedom of information requests to all 22 Welsh councils earlier this year, and they say the responses proved they were right to be concerned that the transition process would lead to many former ILF-users seeing their support packages cut.

Few of the councils were willing to provide detailed information about how the process of re-assessing the needs of the former ILF-recipients in their areas would affect their support packages.

But some of the local authorities admitted that a significant proportion of those currently receiving support through the WILG have already had their support packages cut.

In Wrexham, Davies’ home local authority, the council said it had re-assessed less than a third of former ILF-users but had already cut the support of 18 of them, increasing support for just seven, and leaving one package unchanged.

Monmouthshire council had cut four of 19 packages, Conwy had reduced two of 12 – although the vast majority had still to be assessed – while Caerphilly had reduced four of 29, Merthyr Tydfil had reduced 15 per cent, and both Carmarthenshire and Rhondda councils had cut 10 per cent of support packages.

About a third of the councils – including Pembrokeshire, Gwynedd, Anglesey, Cardiff and Blaenau Gwent – failed to say how many support packages had been cut.

But some local authorities did produce more encouraging answers, with Powys council saying the reassessment process had seen it increase the support packages of 59 of 62 former ILF-users.

Although Port Talbot council had reviewed less than a third of service-users, half had had their packages increased, and the other half had seen them stay at the same level, while Bridgend decided that all but one former ILF-recipient would continue to receive the same support package.

There were also repeated warnings from the local authorities that they could not promise that support packages would not be cut in the future, with Cardiff council warning that “no guarantees as to the future are possible with any funding arrangement”.

Asked if it could guarantee that WILF recipients would have their care packages ring-fenced from all future austerity cuts forced onto local authorities, both Merthyr Tydfil and Port Talbot replied with just one word: “No.”

Huw Irranca-Davies, the Welsh government’s minister for social care, has previously pledged that no former ILF-users would lose out in the transition process.

But a Welsh government spokesman said that its most recent monitoring of the transition had found about 100 of 580 WILG-recipients were having their support “provided in a different manner than previously”*, while 130 were receiving more support.

As about 1,300 people are due to go through the transition, this suggests that about 200 former WILG-users will eventually see their packages cut.

He insisted that the government was committed to ensuring that all disabled people are “fully supported to live independently in their communities”.

And he said that Irranca-Davies had visited both Powys and Wrexham councils this week to “see at first hand the work they have been undertaking” and “will be speaking to other authorities about this over the next few weeks”.

The government spokesman said: “He will also be asking authorities to undertake a deep dive of a sample of cases where there have been significant changes in the type of support people are receiving, to establish the reasons for this and ensure they are receiving the appropriate support they require to live independently.

This is in addition to the ongoing monitoring of the programme, and an additional independent evaluation which has been commissioned by the minister.”

The spokesman claimed that the “feedback from disabled people” on the transition programme had been “positive”.

He said: “Together with our partners in local government and the third sector, we will continue to closely monitor the process and the individual outcomes of the transition from the ILF to the person-centred and co-produced approach to independent living in Wales.”

But Miranda Evans, policy and programmes manager for Disability Wales, said her organisation was “extremely concerned that disabled people with high support requirements are having their hours of care reduced when transferring over to direct payments”. 

She said: “In a number of cases people are losing their ‘socialising’ hours, which is of great concern. 

This vital support enables people to play a part in their community, volunteer with a local group and get involved in political life. 

Without this necessary support disabled people will become isolated, disengaged and unable to leave their home.”

Disability Wales has called for an “urgent review” of the Welsh government’s policy and investigations into the differences between how local authorities are applying it, which she said showed “the further development of a postcode lottery”.

She added: “We remain concerned that funding will be absorbed by social services budgets and not be directed to those who need it: disabled people with high support requirements.”

Davies said the Welsh government’s comments showed that “they simply refuse to see the evidence that is staring them in the face”.

He said: “Yet again the Welsh government seems to think of former ILF recipients as a privileged bunch.

This is not the case at all, as we are disabled people with high care and support needs who were guaranteed a lifetime of adequate support under the old ILF system.

They do not deserve to be made to feel like a hindrance by the Welsh government.”

He said the conclusions that can be drawn from the freedom of information responses were “very worrying indeed” and show “a shocking lack of consistency between local authorities, the development of a ‘postcode lottery’, the lack of an adequate complaints procedure for former ILF recipients and an alarming lack of security, or guarantees, for the future”. 

Davies is determined to persuade the Welsh government to keep the current system, which allows former ILF-recipients some security by receiving funding from three different “pots”: WILG, local authorities and their own personal contributions.

He said: “The responses reflect why we started the campaign three years ago and give weight to our belief that the tripartite system of care needs to be maintained.

Disabled people with high care and support needs simply cannot rely on cash-strapped local authorities to provide the levels of care that they need. 

One of my biggest concerns is that even the local authorities who have increased a majority of care packages cannot guarantee that these packages will remain at the same levels in future years.

It is a concern that these generous increases may only be put in place for a year, while the local authorities sharpen their axes for further cuts once the campaign is over.” 

He added: “The Welsh government now need to listen to the voices that have supported our campaign – assembly members, MPs, Disability Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, celebrities such as Ken Loach and most importantly their own members who passed a motion calling on them to #SaveWILG at the Welsh Labour conference in April 2018.” 

*The Welsh government press office was unable to confirm by 1pm today that this means that their support hours have been reduced

1 November 2018

 

 

DaDaFest promises ‘edgy and disruptive’ festival highlighting years of attacks on rights

The artistic director of DaDaFest has promised that the theme for this month’s international disability arts festival will help shine a light on years of attacks on disabled people’s human rights.

Ruth Gould also spoke out this week against the failure of the national media to recognise the biennial festival, which two years ago attracted more than 360,000 visitors, and an arts sector that has grown increasingly safe and “corporate”.

She promised that DaDaFest, believed to be the world’s largest disability and Deaf arts festival, was offering a programme that was “ground-breaking, new and risky… edgy and disruptive”, with a theme – “Passing: What’s your legacy?” – that focuses on “life’s journey”.

Gould said she was “fed up” with the lack of attention given to DaDaFest in the mainstream media and suggested that this reflected wider attitudes to disabled people.

She said: “These attitudes need confronting and the aim for this year’s festival is to help shine a light on issues that affect how disabled people are viewed by others, usually in a negative way, that leads to a misunderstanding of the truth of the lived experience of disability.

We must challenge and highlight the inequalities, especially in the form of draconian assessments such as personal independence payment and the huge amount of funding cuts, and help support disabled people’s independence and value their contributions in society.”

Her anger is fuelled by increasing despair at the impact of years of assaults on disability rights, she said, and listed a string of examples.

Friends of hers are afraid to be admitted to hospital because they fear a “do not resuscitate” order will be placed above their bed.

She remembers a disabled artist and activist who performed at the first DaDaFest in 2001 and who died five years ago as a result of social care cuts and associated lack of care.

Some disabled people have to be assessed to decide if they will be allowed to keep their babies, she said, while many young disabled people never receive the sex education they need because they are “deemed incapable of relationships and desiring of sexual intimacy”.

She said: “I know Deaf people who are too afraid to go out as they are afraid of the abuse and lack of support to help them understand what is being said.

I have witnessed cuts to our adult services, our children’s services and our NHS while many of our user-led disability charities have lost funds and now cease to exist.”

Gould said she despairs that this country – as the NHS in England rolls out a new non-invasive pre-natal test to detect Down’s syndrome – could soon become like Iceland, where there has reportedly not been a baby with Down’s syndrome born for more than six years.

Gould said she was “sceptical, angry and very afraid for our future, indeed our very existence”.

She added: “I am sad that arts funding is pushing our sector into safe, corporate business practices that are all about ticket sales and playing it to ‘one size fits all’ – mediocrity is threatening to rule.”

But she promised that this month’s DaDaFest would show that “arts and social justice together make great art”.

The festival begins today (1 November) and lasts until 8 December across the Liverpool city region.

Artists will explore the concepts of ageing, death and the changing nature of our bodies.

The festival will also commemorate the end of the First World War as “a key moment for modern recognition of disability as a social construct”.

Among those featuring in this year’s line-up will be comedians Francesca Martinez and Laurence Clark, theatre-maker and comedian Jess Thom – with her performance of Samuel Beckett’s Not I – Stop Gap Dance Company, artists Simon McKeown, Faith Bebbington, Jonathan Griffith and Martin O’Brien, and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Fisher.

The programme includes more than 50 exhibitions, performances, talks, and workshops, featuring established and new talent.

1 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 14:25
Oct 252018
 

Autistic woman ‘left sick and broken’ by two-year universal credit delay

An autistic woman says she has been left without vital financial support – and life-saving medication – for nearly two years because she cannot cope with the face-to-face interview she must undergo to complete her universal credit claim.

Claire*, who lives in the Manchester area, does not have enough money to pay for the medicine she needs because the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is refusing to complete her claim, 22 months after she applied for universal credit.

Because of her complex health conditions, including the severe anxiety she experiences following a serious physical assault, she cannot cope with a face-to-face assessment.

For that reason, Disability News Service (DNS) has been unable to speak to her about her case and confirm every detail, but it has seen paperwork from a DWP civil servant responding to a complaint about the failure to complete her claim.

It is just the latest case that appears to demonstrate the deep-rooted flaws built into universal credit, which was supposed to simplify the benefits system, but instead has driven tens of thousands into poverty.

Claire has multiple sclerosis and has had three heart attacks, and has been told she could have a fatal heart attack at any moment due to unstable angina, while she also has a number of other significant health conditions, including depression, asthma, diabetes, Charles Bonnet syndrome and severe misophonia (extreme sensitivity to certain sounds).

She told DNS, in a statement sent through her cousin, Rachel*: “I have worked all my life until I got MS; I have never felt so worthless as the DWP have made me feel.

I often want to harm myself because I can’t cope with the stress and anxiety.

The DWP have brought me to my knees and every time I try to get up they push me down again. I am very tired; sick and broken.”

DNS has seen two letters from DWP responding to a complaint about her case.

One of the letters includes an explanation from a DWP correspondence manager as to why she has to undergo an “identity check”.

The letter says: “I would like to reassure you that the evidence of identity check is something that only has to be completed at the start of the Universal Credit claim.

Although the visiting officer will endeavour to ensure the interview is not unnecessarily stressful and is completely as quickly as possible, you can ask for someone to be with you for support.

As soon as we can satisfy the evidence of identity requirements we will be able to process and pay your Universal Credit claim.

Please accept my apologies for our delay in the meantime.”

But Rachel said: “She is frightened of everyone. She cannot cope with that kind of interaction, either at home or office-based. Any stress could be fatal.

She has attempted to harm herself because of the traumatic situation the DWP have put her under.

To leave her this long without welfare is a disgrace. It is unacceptable and cruel. It is amazing she isn’t dead.”

Rachel says her cousin is only surviving financially through receipt of disability living allowance of £450 a month, and avoids having to pay rent by house-sitting for a friend – although she pays some housing costs – but she cannot afford the life-saving heart medication she needs, as well as medicine for asthma and diabetes.

She also cannot afford to fix her broken wheelchair, and so is unable to leave the house.

DWP’s press office insisted originally that it would only comment on her case if DNS provided evidence that Claire was happy for the department to share details of her case, with a press officer saying: “We won’t be responding to this story unless we have received consent that is clearly from [Claire].”

After the press office rejected an email she forwarded via DNS as insufficient evidence, Claire wrote a letter giving her permission and sent it via her cousin to DWP’s offices in Westminster by recorded delivery.

But after receiving the letter, another DWP press officer said: “Thanks for getting in touch. Yes we’ve received the letter but won’t be commenting on this case.”

DNS has lodged a complaint with the DWP press office about its behaviour.

But a DWP adviser shown details about the case by DNS said: “This appears to be a very frustrating case and will have no doubt been discussed by colleagues who work in universal credit. 

It is somewhat unfathomable that this claimant is seriously ill and whilst she is fully entitled to claim universal credit, can’t physically get paid due to a very archaic rule meaning she has to attend an interview despite having a number of very serious illnesses. 

It should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds that universal credit will soon, if not already, be compelling various people to attend these interviews, be they fit to work, ill or coming to the end of their lives due to their medical conditions. 

This is no way to run a welfare system in 21st century Britain.”

Last month, DNS reported that there have been four secret reports since April 2016 into the deaths of universal credit claimants that have been linked to DWP activity.

And last week, Labour and SNP MPs lined up in parliament to describe the negative impact of universal credit on disabled people and other constituents.

One MP described in last week’s debate how the mother of a young man receiving mental health crisis treatment was told that unless her son signed his universal credit “claimant commitment” he would have to apply for jobs from his hospital bed, or face being sanctioned.

Disabled activists have warned that universal credit – which combines six income-related benefits into one – is “rotten to the core” and of “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.

In June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.

And in July, employment minister Alok Sharma was asked by MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee why the benefits of hundreds of sick and disabled universal credit claimants were apparently being sanctioned, even though they should not have had to meet any of the strict conditions imposed by the system.

In the same month, further concerns were raised by the committee about disabled people with high support needs who need to claim universal credit and face the possibility of strict conditions – such as being forced to carry out hours of job searches every week – as they wait for a work capability assessment.

*Not her real name

25 October 2018

 

 

Disability inequality is widening and risks becoming ‘entrenched’, says EHRC

Disabled people are becoming increasingly excluded in many areas of their lives and are in danger of becoming “trapped in disadvantage”, a major report by the equality and human rights watchdog has concluded.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says the inequality faced by disabled people is at risk of becoming “entrenched for generations to come” and has today (Thursday) called on the government to adopt “an acute focus on improving life in Britain for disabled people”.

More than a third of disabled people (36.8 per cent) experience “severe material deprivation*”, says the report, nearly three times that of non-disabled people.

It concludes: “The gaps between disabled people and non-disabled people are widening in many areas and disabled people are frequently falling behind other groups.”

Is Britain Fairer? has evaluated progress on equality and human rights across Britain over the last three years, covering education, health, living standards, justice and personal security, work, and participation in politics and public and community life.

The report concludes that disabled people are more likely to live in poverty than non-disabled people, are at greater risk of homelessness, and are among those worst effected by the social security reforms introduced by successive Conservative-led governments since 2010.

The report adds: “Those who can’t work rely on an increasingly restricted welfare regime that is projected to lower their living standards even further.

They also face poorer health and lack of access to suitable housing.

Safety is another major concern, as fewer disabled people have confidence that the criminal justice system is effective.

Without the fundamental building blocks of good education, an adequate standard of living, and being safe and healthy, disabled people are often unable to participate fully in society.”

The report makes it clear that disabled people are “not enjoying the progress experienced by other groups”.

It adds: “Their right to an inclusive education is not being fulfilled – in fact, the proportion of disabled children at special rather than mainstream schools has increased in England and Wales – and they are more likely to be excluded from school.”

This disadvantage continues in later life, the report says.

It points out that an EHRC inquiry which reported in May into the accessible housing crisis found that disabled people across Britain were “demoralised and frustrated by the housing system, reporting a severe shortage of accessible houses across all tenures”.

Social care provision is “limited by funding shortfalls”, the report adds, with parliamentary inquiries concluding that many councils in England “have reduced the care available to the minimum required”.

The report also says that the life expectancy of people with learning difficulties is 14 years shorter (for men) and 18 years shorter (for women) than the general population, because of healthcare-related issues.

Among its many recommendations, the report calls on the government to: set out steps that will ensure disabled children have better access to mainstream education; impose new requirements to ensure new homes are built to stricter accessibility standards; and promote the accessibility of the justice system.

*“Severe material deprivation” is measured by the percentage of people surveyed who say they cannot afford four out of nine essential items

25 October 2018

 

 

Welsh government’s ‘ludicrous’ failure on independent living framework

The Welsh government has been criticised for a “ludicrous” and “insulting” failure to address the adult social care funding crisis in a new draft framework on independent living.

Action on Disability, its new draft framework and action plan, was put out to consultation this week, and aims to “develop and improve access to help, advice and services for disabled people in Wales”.

The plan will eventually replace the Welsh government’s 2013 framework for action on independent living and follows a series of meetings and engagement events with disabled people, disability organisations and other stakeholders.

The report says that this public engagement process saw concerns raised about “cuts to social care provision” which had led to “lower allocations” of direct payments, leaving disabled people “increasingly isolated, and the impacts to their wellbeing compromised”.

But despite these concerns, the action plan refers only to previous strategies on services for visually-impaired people, Deaf and autistic people and those with learning difficulties, and fails to include any measures to address the cuts to support and the social care funding crisis.

This contrasts with its 2013 framework, which included lengthy sections on access to social care, direct payments and personalised support.

Of 44 actions supposedly aimed at improving the right to independent living in the new action plan, not one of them explicitly addresses the need to improve the overall access to care and support, although it does promise a review of the aids and adaptations system that supports disabled and older people to live independently in their own homes.

Instead, the action plan covers areas including disability employment, higher education – including a planned review of policy on disabled students’ allowance – public appointments, and access to public transport.

There is also no mention of social care in the section describing the Welsh government’s “commitments” on independent living, even though it promises to “work for continuous improvement” on how it fulfils its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The failure of the action plan to suggest any measures to address the funding crisis and cuts to support suggests the Welsh government is in breach of the convention’s article 19, which says that governments signed up to UNCRPD should take “effective and appropriate measures” to enable disabled people to live in the community with “full inclusion and participation”.

There is also no mention in the document of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), and the Welsh government’s decision to close its interim Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme, which it has been running as a stopgap with UK government transition funding since ILF closed in June 2015.

Because of the WILG closure, Welsh local authorities will be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients by 31 March 2019.

Nathan Lee Davies, who is leading the campaign to persuade the Welsh government to overturn its decision to scrap WILG, said the failure to address social care in the action plan was “ludicrous” and “insulting”.

He said: “They seem like a load of ostriches burying their heads in the sand. It’s just really worrying.

I am disillusioned but far from surprised. It just seems like they are copying what the Tories have done in Westminster, with the same devaluing of disabled people.”

He suggested that the Welsh Labour government had simply published a “flimsy” framework document in order to “placate the UN, and to be able to say, ‘look, we are doing something to support disabled people’”.

He said that ministers – by closing the WILG – were “washing their hands” of responsibility for social care and handing it to local councils, which could not afford to meet their responsibilities promised under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which Davies said should be renamed the Pie in the Sky Act.

Responding to criticisms of the document, a Welsh government official said: “Our ‘Action on Disability: the Right to Independent Living’ framework is a high-level plan covering a wide range of issues in line with our national strategy, Prosperity for All.

A number of the actions in this draft action plan relate to social care; nevertheless we are open to suggestions on how the plan could be strengthened.

We encourage everyone to contribute to the consultation – which we launched this week – to influence our future work to support disabled people as best we can.”

Davies has contrasted the actions of the Welsh Labour government with those of the UK Labour party, whose leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has publicly supported his campaign to save the WILG, as did members of Welsh Labour at their annual conference earlier this year.

Davies is determined to persuade the Welsh government to keep the current system, which allows former ILF-recipients some security by receiving funding from three different “pots”: WILG, local authorities and their own personal contributions.

He said that this “tripartite” system had provided the support he needed that led to him being recognised with an honorary degree by Wrexham Glyndwr University for his services to disability rights.

He has also been involved with Wrexham football club, Disabled People Against Cuts, and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, as well as writing a new book, and running his campaign and a blog.

He also worked with Disability Arts Cymru on a #SaveWILG exhibition of visual art and poetry earlier this year.

Davies is now waiting to hear what will happen to his support package when WILG closes.

25 October 2018

 

 

Suicide prevention minister could be ‘legally compromised’ over silence on ESA risk

Disabled activists say the new “minister for suicide prevention” could leave herself “legally compromised” by her continuing failure to promise to warn local agencies that claimants of out-of-work disability benefits face a higher risk of taking their own lives.

Jackie Doyle-Price refused again this week to pledge to take the simple step of highlighting that claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) are a high-risk group, in the government’s suicide prevention strategy for England.

Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last December how NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey showed more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives, compared with less than seven per cent of adults who were not claiming ESA.

Doyle-Price, the minister for mental health, had “minister for suicide prevention” added to her job title earlier this month, with prime minister Theresa May claiming she wanted to “prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives”.

But the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) this week described the appointment of a suicide prevention minister as a “cynical PR stunt”.

Denise McKenna, an MHRN co-founder, said: “The NHS Digital statistic of 43 per cent of ESA claimants having attempted suicide at some point in their lives should surely prompt the minister for suicide prevention to take immediate and decisive action to protect ESA claimants.

Should she fail to do everything in her power to reduce risk to people on ESA, any future suicides would undoubtedly leave her legally compromised.

Over and above her legal responsibilities, a minister for suicide prevention has a moral responsibility to speak up in support of those most at risk of suicide and to challenge the causes of suicide.

MHRN will be demanding justice should Jackie Doyle-Smith fail in her duty of care.”   

She added: “We have known for a long time that changes to the social security system are deeply implicated in people attempting and thinking of suicide and there is overwhelming evidence that there have been completed suicides due to the often-insurmountable obstacles placed in the way of disabled people accessing benefits.

We also know that the Tories will do everything in their power to prevent the role they have played in past suicides from being open to public scrutiny, mainly by the suppression of information and by outright denial.”

Dr Jay Watts, the activist and consultant clinical psychologist who first highlighted the NHS Digital figures, said it was “crucial” that ESA claimants were seen as a high-risk group in the national suicide prevention strategy, which “influences local policy and the likelihood of targeted help to reduce suicide risk”.

She said the omission of these figures was “nothing less than a political decision putting lives at risk”.

She said: “Specific attempts to reduce risk for specific populations, such as the excellent work to reduce male suicide that has begun to reverse the epidemic of deaths, have demonstrable results at a population level.”

Watts said that if Doyle-Price ignored the evidence on ESA claimants, she would “not only neglect the responsibility of her office, but maintain the structural violence against claimants manifest in the brutality of the benefits regime so unkind that it is the final straw for so many”.

But she said that Doyle-Price could instead “insist on a kinder, fairer benefits system to make life more bearable for claimants” and “start that process today by explicitly acknowledging the elevated level of risk for ESA claimants which would have a huge roll-down effect on suicide awareness”.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle Campaign, said that Doyle-Price’s “silence speaks volumes”.

He called on her to “accept that people in that cohort are at extremely high risk and propose measures to address that situation.

To fail to do so is to be complicit in the avoidable deaths of disabled people.”

He added: “She is complicit in the ongoing epidemic of suicide affecting disabled people as a direct result of the government’s disability assessment regimes, as a result of government policy.”

A spokeswoman for Doyle-Price refused for the second week to say whether the minister would include the ESA figures in an updated suicide prevention strategy and alert local agencies that ESA claimants are a high-risk group.

Instead she referred to the existing strategy, which briefly mentions Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) guidance for dealing with claimants of ESA and other benefits who may be at risk of suicide or self-harm, its work on training staff, and the department’s processes for learning from DWP-linked suicides.

She said: “The Cross-Government Suicide Prevention Strategy recognises that people who are in receipt of benefits, including ESA, may be experiencing difficult circumstances such as financial, employment and housing insecurity, physical disability or other long-term condition which may place additional strains on their mental health and wellbeing. 

That is why the strategy and the Suicide Prevention Planning guidance issued to local authorities highlight that frontline staff in job centres should be trained in suicide prevention awareness and job centre staff and benefits advisers should be involved in multi-agency groups implementing local suicide prevention plans.”

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

25 October 2018

 

 

Ministers ‘failing to uphold a UN disability convention they do not understand’

Government ministers are failing to uphold the rights of disabled people, ignoring the need to engage with disabled people’s organisations, and do not understand the UN’s disability convention, according to a new report.

The highly-critical report has been compiled by disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) across the UK and submitted to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.

It analyses how the UK and devolved governments have responded to key parts of last year’s highly-critical report by the committee on the UK’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The new report includes some criticism of the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales – and raises concerns about the impact of the continuing political impasse over the Northern Ireland Executive – but most of its concerns are directed at the UK government in Westminster.

The UK government, the report says, is responsible for “continuing retrogression and re-institutionalisation” of disabled people and continues to disagree with the UN committee’s findings and recommendations.

It adds: “We have concerns that the UNCRPD is not embedded within government and is poorly understood at all levels, including ministerial.”

It provides the example of international development secretary Penny Mordaunt, who appeared to try to redefine the meaning of inclusive education at the government’s Global Disability Summit in July, telling the international audience that inclusive education meant “that everyone has an education and it is done in a way to reach their full potential”.

The report says that many of the concerns raised by DPOs last year in their evidence to the UN committee remained a “significant problem”, with disabled people still subject to “tightening eligibility” for support, the removal and sanctioning of benefits and the bedroom tax.

It also raises concerns about the continuing rollout of universal credit (UC) and says DPOs are “gravely concerned” at the failure to assess the access needs of disabled people due to be moved onto UC and the lack of the necessary data to monitor its impact.

It warns that the social care funding crisis has led to the removal of further essential independent living support for disabled people and the closure of community services for people with mental distress, while increasing social care charges are leaving thousands of disabled people in debt or choosing to pull out of receiving support completely.

The DPOs also point to the chronic shortage of accessible housing in England, with new housing for disabled people often limited to segregated supported housing complexes.

And the report says that the number of disabled children being forced into special schools is rising, while budget cuts are reducing the quality of inclusive education, and the number of disabled pupils left without any educational placement at all has risen, as has the number of disabled pupils excluded from school.

Among the DPOs that contributed to the report are the Alliance for Inclusive Education, Disability Action (Northern Ireland), Disabled People Against Cuts, Disability Wales, Inclusion London, Inclusion Scotland, the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance and Sisters of Frida.

They make 22 recommendations of their own that are aimed at the UK government, including calling for: a new legal right to independent living; the abolition of charging for social care; an end to the practice of placing disabled children and young people in long-stay hospitals; and a new social security system that is based on “an accurate analysis of need” and is “consistent with a human rights approach to disability”.

There are also four recommendations for the Welsh government – including a call to incorporate the UNCRPD into Welsh law – and six for the Scottish government, including the need for a national strategy on the provision of accessible housing.

The DPOs conclude that examples of “progressive” policy-making have been restricted to the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales, although the two executives are “not without room for improvement” themselves.

There is also repeated criticism in the report of the UK government’s “inadequate engagement” with DPOs and its failure to recognize the importance of consulting disabled people.

The report says that “engagement with non-user-led charities is continuously prioritised over engagement with DPOs”, while requests by DPOs to meet ministers “are frequently turned down”.

It also says that engagement with the UK government is “undermined by an increasing lack of trust”, and warns that “without trust, consultation and engagement cannot take place in ‘good faith’”.

The report does welcome one measure taken by the UK government, the increased funding for disabled facilities grants, although it warns that “delays in processing applications can still be a problem for under-resourced local authorities”.

This week’s report follows the publication of the government’s own progress report last month.

The DPO report is highly critical of the government’s progress report, accusing it of effectively ignoring many of the UN committee’s recommendations.

One of the recommendations ignored, it says, was to carry out a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of its cuts and reforms on disabled people, with the UK government continuing to insist that this is not possible.

It points out that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a CIA earlier this year, while the Greater London Assembly is conducting its own CIA for London “using the same methodology as the EHRC”, and both the Scottish and Welsh governments are “exploring carrying out their own”.

There is also frustration at the government’s failure to follow up the UN committee’s recommendation that it should devise a “comprehensive” plan aimed at the “deinstitutionalisation” of disabled people, in “close collaboration” with DPOs.

25 October 2018

 

 

Anger over government’s plastic straw ban plan

Disabled people have reacted angrily to government plans to introduce a ban on the sale or distribution of plastic straws, which could come into effect as early as next year.

The ban, which would also outlaw drink stirrers and cotton buds, is being introduced to address the “devastation” caused to rivers and seas by single-use plastic items, and is due to come into force at some point between October 2019 and October 2020.

But most paper and plant-based alternatives to plastic straws are not flexible or suitable for hot drinks, and therefore increase the risk of choking when they become soggy or start to disintegrate.

And metal straws – another frequently-suggested alternative – can be dangerous for people with certain conditions, while reusable plastic straws cause hygiene problems.

The government’s plans are subject to a consultation, which was launched this week and ends on 3 December.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said it would consult on how to ensure that “those who need straws for medical and accessibility reasons can still use them” and are not “disadvantaged or stigmatised” by a ban.

It said that pharmacies would still be able to sell plastic straws, while restaurants, pubs and bars “will be able to stock some straws for use on request”.

But it appears to have failed to carry out an equality impact assessment of its plans, which would make it harder to prove that it has not breached its duties as a public sector body under the Equality Act.

Launching the consultation, environment secretary Michael Gove said: “I commend retailers, bars and restaurants that have already committed to removing plastic straws and stirrers. But we recognise we need to do more.”

There was widespread anger at his plans among disabled people, including those who rely on the use of plastic straws as an independent living aid.

Jamie Szymkowiak, founder of the Scottish-based, user-led campaign One in Five, said the government was “doomed to fail the needs of disabled people” unless it took a different approach.

He said: “Outright bans, of any product, often adversely affect marginalised groups and in the case of plastic straws it is the right for disabled people to live independently that is under threat.

This debate too often puts disabled people against environmentalists without acknowledging the best solution.

Instead of pursuing an outright ban, the government should work with disabled people’s organisations and environmentalists to push manufacturers to produce an environmentally-friendly straw that meets the needs of everyone.”

He encouraged disabled people to take part in the consultation, and added: “Disabled people shouldn’t have to ask or provide a medical certificate before accessing a straw and passing yet another cost on to disabled people is unacceptable if you believe that society bears a responsibility to make the world more accessible for everyone.

Gove should listen to disabled people: push manufactures and suppliers to produce an environmentally-friendly straw instead of pushing us further into isolation.”

There was anger and frustration at the government’s plans on social media, with disabled TV presenter and producer, and YouTube star, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, even live-tweeting her completion of the DEFRA consultation document.

Asked whether she agreed with the proposed October 2019 date for a ban, she wrote: “There should be no ban. Some disabled people will be forced to illegally import plastic straws just to keep drinking. Do you really want that????”

She also retweeted a video, first released in August, which explains exactly why disabled people need plastic straws.

In her video, she says she needs to drink up to 10 litres of liquids a day because of her health condition, all of it through straws, because her wrists are weak and her hands shake.

She says in the video: “We genuinely want to help the planet, but we can’t sacrifice ourselves in the process.

The majority of us have taken up reusable straws and it is only in a pinch that we need the disposable ones… but it is a need.

Yes, it would be better if someone invented something that functions as well as a bendable plastic straw and has little environmental impact, but until that happens we can’t just outright ban something people need.”

Another disabled campaigner, David Gillon, said on Twitter that the “totally predictable” results of the government’s proposals would be that restaurants and pubs would stop stocking all plastic straws, while disabled people would “face harassment for using them in public” and “have to pay through the nose for buying them in a pharmacy”.

He was also angry that the department’s impact assessment stated that disabled people “will not be affected by the ban”, even though its “risks” section warns that “inadequate provision of exemptions” would “impose welfare costs on those who rely on using plastic straws in their everyday lives”.

Research carried out for DEFRA by Resource Futures Ltd has warned that an outright ban could have “disutility impacts” for disabled people “because they would not be able to consume drinks outdoors without having to bring their own costlier (at point of purchase) reusable straws”.

It also warned of “media/legal” challenges if “certain enabling products” were not exempted from the ban.

A DEFRA spokeswoman had failed to confirm by noon today (Thursday) that the department had not carried out an equality impact assessment of its plans.

But she said in a statement: “We recognise there are instances where using plastic straws is necessary for medical reasons which is why our consultation seeks views on how to ensure those who need straws can still access them.

For example, pharmacies will still be able to supply plastic straws and restaurants, pubs and bars will be able to stock some straws for use on request.

The government will work closely with stakeholders to ensure these exemptions are crafted exactly right.”

25 October 2018

 

 

Police and CPS face questions on failure to treat ‘utterly barbaric’ offences as hate crime

The police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are facing questions over why an “utterly barbaric” campaign of violence and abuse directed at a disabled mum and daughter was not treated as disability hate crime.

A family of four were jailed last week for a total of more than 46 years for imprisoning the two disabled women and treating them as slaves as they forced them to work in two flats in Coventry.

The mother and daughter were repeatedly beaten, and had to eat dried pasta, while the younger woman was so hungry she resorted to eating scraps of food from a bin.

The court heard that the family knew the two women had learning difficulties but treated them in an “utterly barbaric manner”, preventing them accessing their own home, and restricting their access to food, heating and their ability to clean themselves.

But despite the apparent evidence of disability-related hostility, the offences were not treated in court as hate crimes, so no attempt was made to seek stricter sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.

The court had heard details of a campaign of bullying, intimidation and repeated violent assaults, led by ring-leader Jean Kelly.

One of the two women was made to clean and carry out other chores at Kelly’s flat, while the other had to work at Kelly’s daughter’s flat in another part of Coventry. They were each paid one cigarette a day for their work.

Jean Kelly was found guilty of two charges under the Modern Slavery Act (MSA), as well as offences of grievous bodily harm (GBH), actual bodily harm and conspiracy to falsely imprison, after a trial at Warwick Crown Court in September.

Three other members of her family also received prison sentences, with her husband Michael jailed for 14 years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and GBH, their daughter Anastasia Hitt jailed for four-and-a-half years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and an MSA conspiracy charge, and her partner Ian Healy jailed for 14 years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and GBH.

Media reports state that Jean Kelly, herself a wheelchair-user, assaulted one of the two women with a baseball bat she called “Bob”.

She had previously been jailed for 18 months for pouring boiling water on her step-brother, who also had learning difficulties.

The judge reportedly told Jean Kelly that her behaviour “demonstrates a sustained interest by you in taking advantage of those with learning difficulties and maltreating them”, while he said the other three members of the family had sought to exploit the pair for their own gain.

But despite his comments, a CPS spokesman confirmed this week that prosecutors had not treated the offences as disability hate crimes.

He said: “The CPS takes prosecution of all kinds of hate crime, including against disabled people, extremely seriously.

In order to prosecute a case as a hate crime there must be evidence the criminal actions are motivated by hostility towards the protected characteristic.

In this instance prosecutors felt the facts did not allow the case to be prosecuted as a hate crime but very serious charges were brought against the defendants who ultimately received prison sentences totalling almost 50 years.

Our thoughts are with the victims in this case and we hope the outcome offers them some comfort as they rebuild their lives.”

West Midlands police refused this week to confirm its officers’ apparent failure to treat the offences as disability hate crimes, and why they failed to do so.

The latest failure of the criminal justice system to recognise disability hate crime came just days after the CPS annual hate crime report showed that the number of disability hate crime cases referred to prosecutors by police forces in England and Wales plunged last year by nearly a quarter.

The number of disability hate crime convictions also slumped, from 800 in 2016-17 to 564 in 2017-18 (a drop of 29.5 per cent).

Earlier this month, a report by two watchdogs found that the work of police officers on more than half of the disability hate crime investigations examined across six sample police forces – not including West Midlands – had been found to be “unacceptable”.

25 October 2018

 

 

Duncan Smith refuses to apologise over ‘exploitative’ comments

The architect of many of the government’s most unpopular and flawed welfare reforms, Iain Duncan Smith, has refused to apologise for “exploitative” comments he made about disabled people and employment.

The former work and pensions secretary is reported to have told a fringe meeting at this month’s Conservative party conference in Birmingham that employers should take on disabled staff because “they often work longer hours”.

He also said that disabled employees “forgo quite a lot of holiday because they love the whole idea of being in work”, and “once they’re in work they actually produce more than most able-bodied people around them”.

The comments, reported in last week’s Private Eye, caused anger among disabled campaigners, who described them as exploitative, patronising and “appalling”.

Duncan Smith, the architect of the new universal credit working-age benefit system, and of many of the coalition government’s most unpopular disability benefit reforms, was addressing a fringe meeting organised by the Centre for Social Justice, the think tank he founded after his enforced resignation as Conservative leader in 2003.

He was joined on the panel by the current work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, a close ally, to examine the question of whether the Conservative party was “making work pay”.

Contacted by Disability News Service this week, a spokeswoman for Duncan Smith said that he was not going to comment on his remarks.

Asked to confirm that that meant he would not comment and would not apologise, she said: “That’s right.”

Carole Ford, a member of the steering group of the WOW campaign, said: “As IDS is refusing to apologise he clearly sees nothing wrong with his views.

This effectively means that disabled workers are ripe for exploitation.”

She had earlier said on Twitter: “Did no one question the quality of the employers who allow their disabled staff not to take their full holiday allowance?”

Among the many others who criticised the comments on social media was the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds, which said: “There is frankly nothing about IDS’s comment that isn’t patronising, othering, and accepting of the idea that it’s okay to exploit disabled people’s ‘gratitude’ for having a job. It’s really appalling. We could go on.”

And Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said on Twitter: “I have heard many charities say the same.

They also say we are more ‘loyal’ and stay in same jobs longer – basically celebrating the outcomes of workplace discrimination and internalised oppression.”

25 October 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:48
Oct 252018
 

 


Concluding observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Alternative report from civil society

Content

  1. Introduction

  2. Overview of key concerns

  3. Response to UKG’s Follow Up report to the Concluding Observations

  4. Civil society follow up information on recommendations made by the Committee in paragraph 114 of its inquiry report

  5. Civil society follow up information on Concluding Observation recommendations

  6. UK DDPO Recommendations

Annex A: Global Disability Summit Charter for Change

Annex B: Inclusion London briefing on Mental Capacity (Amendment) bill

Annex C: Examples of engagement with DDPOs in specific policy areas that demonstrate room for improvement

Annex D: Independent Review of the Mental Health Act

Annex E: List of DDPOs who contributed to this report

  1. Abbreviations

AtW Access to Work

CCG Clinical Commissioning Group

DfID Department for International Development

DFG Disabled Facilities Grant

DHSC Department for Health and Social Care

DLA Disability Living Allowance

DPTAC Disabled People’s Transport Advisory Committee

DWP Department for Work and Pensions

EHCP Education Health and Care Plan

EHRC Equality and Human Rights Commission (part of the UK Independent Mechanism)

ESA Employment and Support Allowance

ICESCR International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

ILF Independent Living Fund

IMG Inter-ministerial Group

IMNI Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland

INGOs International Non-Governmental Organisations

JSA Job Seekers Allowance

LA Local Authority

LHS Local Housing Strategy

MR Mandatory Reconsideration

NAO National Audit Office

NI Northern Ireland

ONS Office for National Statistics

PIP Personal Independence Payment

PSED Public Sector Equality Duty

SDGs Sustainable Development Goals

SEND Special Educational Needs and Disability

SG Support Group

TUC Trade Union Congress

UC Universal Credit

UKG UK Government

UKIM UK Independent Mechanism

UNCRPD United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

WCA Work Capability Assessment

WILG Welsh Independent Living Grant

WG Welsh Government

WRAG Work Related Activity Group

A.Introduction

  1. Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs)1 in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland2 have compiled the following civil society report to provide information on the implementation of Articles 19, 27 and 28 by the UK Government (UKG) over the past 12 months. This correlates with the Committee’s request at paragraph 73 of the Concluding Observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, adopted on 29 August 2017, that, within 12 months, the UKG should provide information in writing on measures to implement the Committee’s recommendations as set forth in paragraphs 45, 57, and 59.

  2. Readers are reminded of the devolution framework in the UK. Where the UK Government is referred to, this can mean all 4 nations in the UK where the issue is a “reserved” one or to Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). Actions of the UKG on devolved issues will only be applicable in England and separate action may be taken by governments in other nations.

B. Overview of key concerns

  1. Below is a summary of shared key concerns that cut across the three articles within focus:

    • Continuing retrogression and re-institutionalisation of Disabled people.

    • Inadequate strategic implementation and monitoring of the UNCRPD.

    • Failure by UKG to recognise the UN Disability Committee findings and recommendations.

    • Inadequate specific engagement with DDPOs and, in some countries, a lack of trust between DDPOs and Government.

    • Escalation of future needs due to adverse impacts of current policy.

    • The lack of any protection for Disabled people in Northern Ireland. This is especially in light of the fact there is no devolved government there and lack of adequate oversight by the UKG.

  1. Continuing retrogression and re-institutionalisation of Disabled people.

4.1 Disabled people’s socio-economic rights under Articles 19, 27 and 28 have been further retrogressed since the adoption of the Concluding Observations in August 2017. The crisis in funding for social care has led to further removals of essential daily independent living support for Disabled people and the closure of community services for people with mental distress, in particular DDPOs and services led by people from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) and other marginalised groups. LAs responsible for the delivery of support services are struggling to meet demand; in England LAs are starting to go bankrupt, putting at risk their ability to meet even minimum legal duties3. Social care charges are increasing,4 leaving thousands in debt or choosing to pull out of receiving support altogether.5 Just under half of social care users surveyed by In Control said they had frequently, or occasionally, used money intended for other household costs such as food and heating to pay for care and support.6

4.2 People with learning difficulties, autism and mental distress continue to be sent many miles away from their communities to receive treatment.7 There is wide concern that the Mental Capacity (amendment) Bill (England only) currently passing through Parliament will weaken protections and the duty to consider the best interests of the person in authorising deprivation of liberty.8 There is a chronic shortage of accessible housing with around 365,000 Disabled people in England with unmet housing needs9, yet plans for new housing too often limit inclusion of Disabled people’s needs to segregated “supported housing” complexes.10

4.3 Placements in segregated education are rising11 while cuts to “special educational needs and disability” (SEND) budgets are reducing the quality of inclusive education and availability of education for Disabled pupils12. The number of Disabled pupils left without any educational placement was also found to have risen: official statistics showed 4,152 Disabled pupils were without a place in 2017 in England, up from 776 in 201013. School exclusions have sharply risen with rates of exclusion five times higher for SEND pupils than non-Disabled pupils.14

4.4 Increasing barriers to employment are adversely impacting on Deaf and Disabled people’s right to work. The government cites a figure of 600,000 additional Disabled people in work since 201015, yet official figures also show greater numbers of Disabled people leaving rather than entering employment.16 The UK has a persistent disability employment gap which is currently over 30 percentage points.17 The disability pay gap is another major inequality18 Research published in 2017 highlighted a number of policy and operational issues with the Access to Work (AtW) disability employment scheme that are not yet addressed.19 The recent government announcement of increased funding for supported businesses through AtW is viewed by DDPOs as retrogressive measure, representing investment in segregated employment at the expense of supporting mainstream employment opportunities.20

4.5 Under Article 28, many of the same issues on which we reported previously remain a significant problem, with Disabled people still subject to tightening eligibility, the removal21 and sanctioning of benefits22, and the spare room subsidy removal (“bedroom tax”).23 In addition to this we now have the roll out of Universal Credit (UC), which is set to affect 8 million households, of which 58% will have a Disabled member.24 Adverse impacts experienced by UC claimants have led to widespread concern expressed by civil society organisations25, local authorities26, the media and general public.27 In a report published in June 2018 the NAO called on the DWP to “ensure that operational performance and costs improve sustainably” before further roll out progresses28.

4.6 Welfare conditionality is a core principle at the heart of UC. Mounting evidence demonstrates the harm that conditionality and sanctions cause as well as counter-productive impacts for Disabled people, in fact moving them further from the labour market.29 DDPOs are extremely concerned about widespread application of job search requirements without reasonable adjustments leading to sanctioning practices that discriminate against Deaf and Disabled claimants. New research from Activity Alliance and the Dwarf Sports Association UK shows that fear of losing benefits is preventing Disabled people from taking part in physical activity and accessing the associated health and social benefits. More than a third (34%) of those surveyed reported that they or someone they know has had benefits sanctioned or removed as a result of being physically active.30

4.7 At the State Examination in Geneva last year, particular concern was raised by the Committee that Disabled people in Northern Ireland (NI) have less legislative protection than in any other part of the UK. It was also acknowledged that the situation for Disabled people in NI is particularly egregious. In the 13 months that have followed, the situation in NI has, unfortunately, got even worse. This is because of a lack of devolved government and a lack of engagement by the Westminster Government with NI DDPOs.

4.8 These retrogressions are happening within a context of restricted access to justice due to legal aid changes. Disabled people are overrepresented users of civil legal aid. As a result the reduction in scope of legal aid enacted through LASPO31 and significant drop in publicly funded cases has had a disproportionate impact.32 The changes prevent many Disabled people who use adult social care services from recourse to challenging cuts to their support. Advice and law centres have closed33 and it is increasingly difficult to find solicitors to take on cases – even where Disabled people are still eligible for legal aid. The changes have also dramatically reduced support available to navigate the welfare system. Figures published by the Ministry of Justice in October 2017 showed that just 440 claimants were given legal aid assistance in welfare benefits cases in 2016-2017, down from 83,000 in 2012-13. This represents a drop of 99.5%.34 Meanwhile we continue to wait for the government’s LASPO post-implementation review.35

4.9 Examples of progressive policy-making and attempts to uphold Disabled people’s rights under the UNCRPD continue to be limited to the devolved nations, where the implementation of mitigating measures and strategic frameworks for the realisation of Disabled people’s rights, although not without room for improvement,36 represent a progressive break from the approaches taken by Westminster government. Nevertheless, DDPOs in Scotland remain unsure of how the Scottish Government and LAs intend to tackle the crisis in social care given low staff morale, incompatibility between competitive tendering requirements and choice and control for Disabled people, provision of the new living wage and the ever increasing demand for services with a growing older population. None of this can be realistically achieved within current funding levels and DDPOs continue to call for a national debate on the future funding of social care, and subsequent action.

4.10 This is particularly true in NI, where unfortunately there has been no devolved government since January 2017. Positive steps were taken by the Northern Ireland Executive in respect of the rights of Disabled people, and commitments were made in respect of implementing the provision of the Equality Act 2010 to NI as they pertain to disability, especially around indirect discrimination of Disabled people in NI. Unfortunately, the collapse of the NI Executive has resulted in this work not being implemented. The UKG has, disappointingly, not stepped up to ensure this important work is delivered for disabled people in NI.

4.11 While some gains have been made for British and Irish Sign Language users in the UK, these have only been made in the context of damaging Government cuts (in relation to the AtW cap)37, inconsistent provision across the devolved nations (in the case of the Scottish BSL National Plans), and short-term fixes (in the case of reinstating the Access to Elected Office Fund only for a 12 month period in England).38 We agree with the noting of the BSL (Scotland) Act as having overseen some key improvements within Scotland by placing a duty on Scottish Ministers to promote the use and understanding of BSL. We would welcome similar legislation across the UK

.

  1. Inadequate understanding, strategic implementation and monitoring of UNCRPD

5.1 We have concerns that the UNCRPD is not embedded within government and is poorly understood at all levels, including ministerial. In response to criticisms of the impact of their domestic policy on Disabled people in the UK over the past year, UKG ministers have consistently cited the worse conditions of Disabled people in poorer countries.39 This represents a misunderstanding of the UNCRPD duty on the progressive realisation of socio-economic and cultural rights: the situation in the UK is of such concern because it constitutes serious, systematic retrogression, not because the starting point is further behind other countries. As discussed below at paragraph 6, the UKG either does not understand, or is not willing, to accept its duty under the UNCRPD, as outlined in detail in the General Comment on participation adopted by the Committee this year, to consult and engage with UK DDPOs in the implementation and monitoring of the Convention.40

5.2 A concept of “independent living” that does not align with Article 19 is prevalent in policy-making and practice at all levels and there is a failure to understand the inherent link between inclusive education and Article 19 rights.41 Social care is increasingly focused on how to reduce awards and restrict eligibility. In this context “independent living” is taken to mean free from use of state-funded support.42 DDPOs are concerned by what appeared to be an attempt by a minister to redefine the concept of inclusive education to include segregated education at the “Global Disability Summit” held in London in July 2018,43 while a new parliamentary inquiry into the educational support provided for Disabled children and young people launched in April 2018 failed to mention inclusive education.44 The UKG has no plans to remove its reservation and interpretative declaration on Article 24 of the UNCRPD.

5.3 There has been no direct engagement with Disabled people in NI by the Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland (IMNI) in the past year. IMNI held an information session to which some Disabled people were invited, and held another roundtable meeting to update people on the work they had done. Both events took place in Belfast which, due to lack of transport access, made the meeting inaccessible to many.

5.4 Disability data collection and analysis is inadequate for major policy areas including social care and Universal Credit. Recommendations of a recent Parliamentary review on the future of social care45 echoed a mounting call for a body tasked with modelling the amount of funding needed by social care in the future and ensuring funding keeps pace with need.46 The fact that no such modelling currently exists represents a serious omission at the heart of the growing crisis in social care. DDPOs are gravely concerned at a failure to assess the access needs of Deaf and Disabled people due to be moved onto UC and a lack of disaggregated data to monitor impact. There has evidently been no central data modelling47 carried out to estimate numbers of people who will require special assistance to access the digital by default service and on which to base decisions on staffing numbers and retention of physical premises.48 Data on sanctions applied under Universal Credit is not disaggregated by disability.49

5.5 There is a lack of disaggregated data in NI, especially in respect of Disabled people. Without this the State party cannot fulfil its obligations under the UNCRPD. In the absence of devolved government in NI, the UKG must ensure mechanisms are put in place in NI to ensure data is adequately and accurately captured.

5.6 There is currently no framework for strategic implementation or monitoring of the UNCRPD within England or across the UK as whole. In May 2018, a new Interdepartmental Ministerial Group (IMG) on disability and society was announced.50 Cross-government working to implement, embed and monitor the UNCRPD is urgently needed to ensure that policy development and monitoring reflect the needs, interests and rights of Deaf and Disabled people, particularly since the work of the government Office for Disability Issues has been curtailed since 2010.51 Without a strategic approach to disability equality, the government is struggling to meet its own targets on, for example, getting one million more Disabled people into employment.52 However, we are disappointed that DDPOs were not consulted about the establishment of the IMG and we have no information about what it will do.53 We note that since devolution of responsibility for meeting the independent living support needs of Disabled people to the devolved administrations and English LAs/CCGs, there has been a failure to monitor how Disabled people’s rights under Article 19 are being met or to promote implementation of the UNCRPD among LAs and CCGs.54

5.7 There are no mechanisms in place in NI to ensure that the UNCRPD is implemented across departments of the NI Executive in the event devolution is restored, and no engagement from UKG in general or the Secretary of State in particular in the absence of devolution in NI to ensure this occurs. Also, there are no effective means of monitoring the UNCRPD in NI, from IMNI or the devolved NI Executive or, in its absence, the Westminster Government.

5.8 In Scotland, there is not yet a process to implement and follow up on the Concluding Observations recommendations.55 Whilst Scotland has a measurable strategic framework – Fairer Scotland for Disabled People – which was conceived to demonstrate the Scottish Government’s approach to implementing the UNCRPD, it is clear that it does not cover all aspects of the Convention. It is not clear what measures and practices of monitoring evaluation are being applied to the framework, nor what financial resources are applied to it and whether these are sufficient. Scottish DDPOs expected to be working closely with Scottish Government to monitor and evaluate the actions in the framework however, little has been provided by way of opportunities or a structured framework for monitoring and evaluation and less so one that involves Disabled people and DDPOs, or indeed the Scottish-based Independent Mechanism organisations. To date Inclusion Scotland has only been afforded “observer” status on the Delivery Plan Programme Board. In addition, the majority of the actions in the framework will not evidentially lead to the transformational change that is required.56

5.9 In Wales there is not yet a process to implement and follow up on the Concluding Observations recommendations partly because the Welsh Government has undertaken a review of its Framework for Action on Independent Living. The revised draft framework should be published during Autumn 2018 and is expected to set out how the Welsh Government will be taking forward the principles of the Convention, taking account of the UN Committee’s recommendations where appropriate.

  1. Failure by the UKG to recognise the UN Disability Committee findings and recommendations.

6.1 The UKG continues to disagree with both the findings of the UN Disability Committee’s special investigation into the UK under the optional protocol57 and the committee’s Concluding Observations from the examination of the UK under the UNCRPD that took place last year. There appears to have been no attempt to initiate a process for implementation and follow up of the recommendations,58 certainly not in consultation with DDPOs, and neither report has been disseminated in line with the committee’s recommendations.59 In June the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work said in Parliament, “we were disappointed that the UN representatives who came to the UK simply did not take on board the evidence that the Government gave them and did not acknowledge the full range of support.”60 She spoke about the need to “rebut the allegations levelled against us” and suggested an ideological difference with the approach taken by the committee, saying: “We firmly believe that a disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life, including in society or in the workplace.” This indicates a belief by the UKG that the provision of state funded support and a social security safety net holds Disabled people back. The position that support must be withdrawn or that withdrawal must be threatened in order to empower people is un-evidenced,61 alongside overwhelming evidence of the harms and human rights retrogressions that this approach causes.

6.2 While continuing to dismiss the expertise and approach of the UN Disability Committee, the UK has, through its Department for International Development and in partnership with International Disability Alliance, initiated a global disability “Charter for Change”, in which it is encouraging State parties to sign (see Annex B). We are concerned that this represents an attempt to bypass the authority of the Committee. It was launched at a global summit on disability co-hosted by the UK which throughout the past year has been used by UKG ministers to deflect criticism from their record on disability within the UK.62

6.3 The attitude of the UKG towards the UNCRPD and the Committee is not anomalous but is consistent with their general approach towards international socio-economic rights. There continues to be no response from the UKG to the Concluding Observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from June 201663 and in March 2018 at the launch of the new EHRC report detailing Britain’s progress in implementing the ICESCR.64 65

  1. Inadequate engagement with DDPOs and lack of trust.

7.1 There has been no engagement at UKG level with DDPOs concerning implementation of the UNCRPD. This is despite the recommendation of the UN Disability Committee at paragraph 74 of the Concluding Observations66 and despite attempts to initiate dialogue by UK DDPOs:

  • On 28 February 2018 UK DDPOs wrote jointly67 to the Prime Minister to draw attention to the lack of response from the UKG to the Concluding Observations six months on, to request a meeting to discuss how the Government was implementing the UNCRPD committee’s recommendations and how the Government planned to work with organisations led by Deaf and Disabled people in monitoring and implementing the Convention. (see also 4.5)

  • On 25 April 2018 we received a response from the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Health and Work explaining that the letter had been passed to her and invited us to meet with her.

  • On 6 June 2018 we replied welcoming the positive response and asked for a date to meet.

  • On 10 July 2018 we received a reply from the Minister explaining that due to “ongoing diary commitments” she would not be able to meet with us.

  • A few English DDPOs have instead, since the beginning of August, received individual invitations to meet Karen Jochelson, head of the Office for Disability Issues, to discuss implementation of the UNCRPD.68

7.2 There continues to be inadequate engagement by the UKG with DDPOs in ongoing policy planning and implementation and a general failure to recognise the importance of consulting organisations of Disabled people.69 Annex D details three examples relevant to Articles 19 and 28 where engagement with Disabled people and our organisations has been either refused or marginalised by the UKG in key areas of policy. Engagement with non user-led charities is continuously prioritised over engagement with DDPOs.70None of the bodies set up to engage with Deaf and Disabled people and our organisations as part of the UK government’s disability strategy has met for over a year.71 DDPOs remain concerned at the lack of engagement over withdrawal from the European Union with DDPOs in relation to design, planning and delivery at UK, national and local levels.72 In the past 12 months, Deaf campaigners have worked with MPs to champion a number of causes within Parliament, however, each time responding ministers have concluded that none of the recommendations made will be taken up, and that no meaningful movement in these areas will be made.73

7.3 The tendency for the UKG to dismiss concerns and criticism is not limited to engagement with Deaf and Disabled people. It extends to any critical voices including those of non user-led charities, Parliamentary committees, academics and public bodies responsible for scrutiny. The NAO report into the roll out of UC concluded that the DWP is led to “often dismiss evidence of claimants’ difficulties and hardship instead of working with [local and national organisations that represent and support benefit claimants] to establish an evidence base for what is actually happening. The result has been a dialogue of claim and counter-claim and gives the unhelpful impression of a Department that is unsympathetic to claimants.”74

7.4 With the UKG not listening, in order to mitigate harmful policy impacts, DDPOs and disability charities are left with no recourse other than to initiate national campaigns and support legal challenges against the government.75 Legal action has led to some significant policy reversals and mitigations, most notably since last year concerning the PIP regulation changes,76 Access to Work cap,77 UC transitional protections,78 and ESA back-payments for 70,000 Disabled people.79 However, the scope of what can be addressed in the courts is limited to points of law and the outcomes of challenges are mixed, with the high court reluctant to “micro manage” government policy.80 It is not a satisfactory way to shape policy.81

7.5 Engagement with the UKG is undermined by an increasing lack of trust. In July 2018 the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was forced to apologise for misleading Parliament about the NAO report82 which she incorrectly claimed called for a faster roll out. The NAO took the highly unusual step of publicly writing to her to list the inaccurate statements made. Lack of trust was also a key conclusion of an inquiry by the Work and Pensions Committee into the benefits assessment process for ESA and PIP.83 Without trust, consultation and engagement cannot take place in “good faith”, as called for under the UNCRPD, “[a]cting truthfully and fairly with each other…based on transparency, mutual respect, meaningful dialogue and a sincere desire to reach a collective agreement.84

7.6 Scottish Government are generally active engagers via consultations and seminars, the latter sometimes delivered via DDPO networks. DDPOs were and are involved in a number of project specific and thematic advisory, working and strategic planning groups, and requests for meetings with Ministers can sometimes be met. There is particularly good practice relating to adult social care and social security.85 Scottish Government have funded the DDPO Inclusion Scotland to develop a Policy Panel and a Core Group of people using Adult Social Care, which will have a direct link to the minister as a front-line for policymakers to develop policies and strategy in co-production with Disabled people and other groups who use social care support, which will launch in October 2018, and its impact noted.86 Throughout the Social Security Bill’s (now Act) progress through Parliament DDPOs had several meetings with the Social Security Minister, the Bill Team and other senior officials in Government. Many of the changes requested by Disabled people were taken into account and amendments made to the original legislation.87 In many ways the Social Security Directorate has provided a model for engagement. However, engagement opportunities are not without issue including lack of accessibility and inclusion,88 mixed engagement alongside non-DDPO disability organisations and the lack of auspicious listening and evidence of influence or change from DDPO contributions. The delivery of inclusive and accessible engagement by different policy directorates is variable at best.89 There has been some success in the recognition of BSL and related barriers but there is little to no progress in the wider access and engagement in English, for example, for deafened and Hard of Hearing people.

7.7 Welsh Government are generally active engagers via consultations and stakeholder groups, the latter sometimes delivered via DDPO networks. For example, DDPOs are involved in the Disability Equality Forum, the National Independent Living Steering Group and the Transport Accessibility Panel amongst others. The WG grant fund Disability Wales (DW) to engage with Disabled people and DDPOs to help inform national policy. However, following a 50% cut in the grant, DW’s capacity is limited to fully support engagement across the wide range of policy issues affecting Disabled people. The experience of meaningful and inclusive engagement varies according to the directorate however sometimes the involvement of DDPOs in advisory groups can be used to justify unpopular decisions as with the transfer of the Welsh Independent Living Grant to LAs.

  1. Escalation of future needs due to adverse impacts of current policy.

8.1 The continuation and acceleration of policies with a detrimental impact on Deaf and Disabled people are causing an escalation of need which will lead to even greater problems for the future. Excluding Deaf and Disabled pupils from educational opportunities and increasing educational segregation90 will lead to greater inequality for future generations while inadequate responses to dramatically rising incidences of mental distress experienced by children and young people will have serious consequences both for those individuals and society as a whole.91 Cuts to independent living support and preventative services has a knock on effect on crisis and NHS services.92 Evidence of reduced strain on NHS services through the introduction of free personal care for Disabled people over the age of 65 in Scotland has led plans to extend eligibility to under 65s from April 2019 onwards93, however there are no proposals to replicate this offer in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, the cost of inadequate support provision is being keenly felt with cuts to social care linked to 120,000 excess deaths in England in a study published in November 2017.94 UKG continues to deny causal links between suicides and welfare reform but evidence continues to suggest otherwise. Figures analysed in December 2017 showed that the proportion of people claiming the main out-of-work disability benefit who have attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2014, after the introduction of ESA and a new assessment process,95 while the latest individual tragedies to hit the news this month96 are those of Mark Barber, a Disabled man who took his own life after learning his benefits would be cut by £20 per week,97 and Steven Arnold, who killed himself after having fallen into financial difficulty following a workplace accident that left him unable to continue in his self-employment.98

C. Response to the UKG’s Follow Up report to the Concluding Observations

  1. We are pleased that UKG has provided a follow up to the Concluding Observations that addresses both the Concluding Observation recommendations and those of the inquiry report in 2016.

  2. We are disappointed that the Follow Up report does not more thoroughly address the substantive issues highlighted in the recommendations and effectively ignores a significant number of them, in particular those recommending a cumulative impact assessment, ensuring that legislation and policy measures align with the UNCRPD and a human rights model of disability and implementation of a media campaign to promote Disabled people on benefits as full rights holders. There is a tendency in the report to list legislative and policy measures and spend without providing evidence of effectiveness or impact.99

  3. The Follow Up report and covering letter provide further evidence in support of points made above concerning a failure to properly understand either the Convention or a human rights approach to disability100 and poor engagement with DDPOs.101 The reflections on progress in the cover letter include areas where DDPOs also have concerns about retrogression such as housing, mental health services, employment, participation in society and transport. Many of these are set out in the sections above and below. In relation to the specific education measures listed, whilst we welcome the level for literacy and numeracy being adjusted for Disabled apprentices, this does not go far enough,102 and UKG is investing much more heavily in segregated supported internships rather than supported apprenticeships particularly for people with learning difficulties. There is no evidence of strategy to tackle the factors that give rise to people with learning difficulties and autism ending up institutions in the first place.103 The stated aim of the UKG to improve access to transport for Disabled People is not supported by the experience of passengers over recent years. For example:

  • A trial of “turn-up-and-go” access to rail has failed to report in 3 years and train operating companies still insist on 24 hours’ notice to guarantee assistance;104

  • The use of Driver Only Operation has increased against advice from DPTAC, the UK Government’s own advisory body;105

  • Access for All funding designated to improving step free access to stations across the country has been repeatedly cut, most recently by nearly £50m;106

  • The UK Government has failed to act on a Supreme Court judgement and DPTAC advice to legislate to enshrine in law the right for wheelchair users to have priority access to buses.107

  1. There has been no meaningful engagement by DFID with UK DDPOs since the Government signed and ratified the CRPD. UK DDPOs have been excluded by DFID in favour of disability charities and INGOs. The £29m Disability Inclusive Development (DID) programme is subject to an investigation by the EHRC to see whether the procurement breaches the Equality Act. DFID have failed to fund any UK DDPO over the last decade to engage in development cooperation.108

D. Civil society follow up information on recommendations made by the Committee in paragraph 114 of its inquiry report

114a) Conduct a cumulative impact assessment of the measures adopted since 2010, referred to in the present report, on the rights to independent living and to be included in the community, social protection and employment of persons with disabilities. The State party should ensure that such assessment is rights-based and meaningfully involves persons with disabilities and their representative organizations;

  1. We are disappointed that the UKG continues to maintain a position that it cannot do this. The EHRC commissioned its own cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of welfare and tax reforms since 2010 published in March 2018.109 The Greater London Assembly is in the process of conducting a CIA for London using the same methodology as the EHRC and both Scottish and Welsh governments are exploring carrying out their own. In 2014 the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed that they think it is possible to do a CIA of tax and benefit changes for the Disabled population as a whole.110 In response to the work by the EHRC, the UKG has said it is not possible to carry out a gendered analysis capable of modelling intra-household distribution of income, however this does not prevent a cumulative impact assessment on disability (or race). The UKG Follow Up report says that full impacts on households of government spending cannot be reliably modelled, however the EHRC has tackled this by carrying out two separate but linked assessments for welfare and tax reforms (as published) and public spending (due to be published in October 2018).

114b) Ensure that any intended measure of the welfare reform is rights-based, upholds the human rights model of disability and does not disproportionately and/or adversely affect the rights of persons with disabilities to independent living, an adequate standard of living and employment. To prevent adverse consequences, the States party should carry out human rights-based cumulative impact assessments of the whole range of intended measures that would have an impact on the rights of persons with disabilities;

  1. The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) is too weak as a safeguard to preventing disproportionate impacts. Public sector bodies are required to prove only that they have considered the disproportionate impacts of policy measures that they can lawfully implement so long as this due regard is evidenced. It also relies on individuals personally affected by the policy measures to initiate legal proceedings. For individuals who often lack support and resources this is a very hard ask. In December 2017, the High Court ruled that changes to the PIP regulations brought in by the UKG were “blatantly discriminatory”.111 Had it not been for the one individual – a person who experiences psychological distress – who took the case, those regulation changes would still be in place. UK DDPOs would like an extension to the three month time limit for initiating JR proceedings.

  2. We do not believe there has been an equality impact assessment for UC that looks at the impact of digital by default design on Deaf and Disabled people or sufficient data modelling to ascertain numbers of Deaf and Disabled benefit claimants likely to require reasonable adjustments.

114c) Ensure that: any intended legislation and/or policy measure respects the core elements of the rights analysed in the present report; persons with disabilities retain their autonomy, choice and control over their place of residence and with whom they live; they receive appropriate and individualized support, including through personal assistance, and have access to community-based services on an equal basis with others; they have access to security social schemes that ensure income protection, including in relation to the extra cost of disability, that is compatible with an adequate standard of living and ensure their full inclusion and participation in society; and they have access and are supported in gaining employment in the open labour market on an equal basis with others;

  1. Limited understanding of the UNCRPD as discussed in paragraphs 4.1 – 4.2 above, combined with a failure to consistently accept a human rights approach to disability, continues to leave a number of areas of government policy divergent from the principles of the UNCRPD. Both the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill currently going through Parliament and the independent review of the Mental Health Act, also currently in process, are inconsistent with UNCRPD Articles 12, 14, 15, and 17 as well as 19.112 Approaches to work, health and disability and welfare reform continue to be underpinned by a biopsychosocial model of disability that is incompatible with a social model/human rights approach to disability.

  2. The UNCRPD is not enshrined in domestic legislation and a recent high court judgment concerning the Care Act 2014 warned that “great care must be taken where international treaties such as the UNCRPD set out broad and basic principles as being determinative tools for the interpretation of a concrete measure such as a UK statute”.113

  3. The UKG is not monitoring the implementation of the Care Act 2014 and neither is it promoting or monitoring implementation of UNCRPD Article 19 by Las, Clinical Commisioning Groups or devolved administrations. Many LAs and CCGs do not understand or accept their obligations under the UNCRPD. Adoption of policies at LA/CCG level such as caps on support to live in the community, removing choice and control through pre-payment cards114, and the adoption of “strength-based” approaches115, are inconsistent with Article 19 rights. Where LAs/CCGs implement policy in breach of the Care Act it is left to individual Disabled people, civil society organisations and the UK Independent Mechanism to initiate challenges in order to protect Disabled people’s rights.116

  4. The decision to cut the amount paid to Disabled people in the ESA WRAG from 1 April 2017117 was made in spite of evidence indicating how the reduction would lead to impoverishment. The many DDPOs, charities and other civil society organisations who responded to the consultation on the government green paper “Improving Lives” were disappointed that the government chose not to reverse this measure.118 In July 2018, members of the cross-party House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee questioned the Secretary of State over witness evidence they had received showing the cuts were “increasing stress and poverty for people in the WRAG” and had provided a “disincentive to get to work”.119

  5. The UKG Follow Up report refers to both Enhanced and Severe Disability Premiums. Neither exist for new claimants under UC. This means £41.10 less a week than existing claimants on legacy benefits or transitional protections.120

  6. AtW provides support to enable Deaf and Disabled people to get into and stay in work. It does not support us to gain employment on an equal basis with others. The DWP made clear in a recent judicial review hearing concerning the AtW cap that the aim of the scheme is not to support Deaf and Disabled people with career progression or to access more senior professions and roles where, due to a person’s impairment, this requires costs in excess of what the Department considers reasonable to pay towards support for one individual. This restricts choice of employment depending upon impairment and level of support need.121

114d) Ensure that public budgets take into account the rights of persons with disabilities, that sufficient budget allocations are made available to cover extra costs associated with living with a disability and that appropriate mitigation measures, with appropriate budget allocations, are in place for persons with disabilities affected by austerity measures;

  1. Public budgets continue to be set by the UKG according to overriding principles of reducing or restricting public spending rather than according to need.

  2. The serious situation concerning local authority funding has been outlined in paragraph 4.3. The social care budget shortfall is gravely impacting on Disabled people’s right to independent living. The UKG is failing to heed warnings from council leaders, the social care sector and Disabled people about the unsustainability of the social care situation.122 A raft of recent reports have called for an independent body tasked with modelling the amount of funding required to adequately meet social care need. The UKG has provided extra resources to adult social care,123 however, as the scale of continuing cuts demonstrate, however, together with the fragile state of the care market,124 there is not yet a sustainable, long-term solution to the funding of adult social care. This funding position is also having a major adverse impact on the survival of DDPOs.

  3. The UKG Follow Up report references how 30% of current PIP recipients receive the highest level of support compared to 15% for DLA. A note of caution is needed for such a direct comparison since PIP has only two rates (standard and enhanced) whereas DLA had three (higher, middle and lower).125 It should also be noted that large numbers of Disabled people who previously received DLA are being turned down for PIP. Figures published in June 2018 show that since the rollout of PIP, 381,640 Disabled people who previously received DLA have been turned down for the new benefit upon reassessment.126 Loss of DLA/PIP has a wider adverse impact for individuals who then lose other benefits to which DLA/PIP acts as a passport.127 The transitional support package for claimants who lose access to a Motability vehicle after reassessment for PIP is not sufficient compensation for the loss of access to the outside world that this entails. According to Motability figures published in April 2017, 51,000 people had vehicles taken away since 2013.128

  4. When benefits are reduced, mitigation measures are often only implemented for existing claimants but not for new ones, for example the removal of EDP and SDP under UC and the ESA WRAG cut.

114e) Introduce all adjustments necessary to make all information, communications, administrative and legal procedures in relation to social security entitlements, independent living schemes and employment/unemployment-related support services fully accessible to all persons with disabilities;

  1. There has been an attempt by the DWP to improve communications with Disabled people129 and the DWP Accessible Taskforce as referenced in the UKG follow up report is one forum that seeks to engage directly with DDPOs. Sadly the meetings of the taskforce have themselves, on occasion, not been accessible to Deaf stakeholders.130 There was a promising pilot of accessible application formats for AtW and the introduction of a new video relay service to enable British Sign Language (BSL) users to access government services. However, on the ground we continue to see AtW advisors ignoring the preferred communication formats of individual customers. The DWP has also been subject to legal action for failing to communicate in accessible formats with benefit claimants.131

  2. Local authorities are not implementing accessibility standards for communicating with adult social service users.132

  3. The UC application process is inaccessible to many Deaf and Disabled people.133 This will adversely affect millions of people required to apply for UC under through its roll out. Research by the Government Digital Service (GDS)134, showed that 30% of UC claimants cannot set up the online account that UC uses.135 Although there are options available such as face to face visits for claimants, we are deeply concerned about rationing of special assistance measures and that no data modelling has been conducted to ascertain the level of need for these reasonable adjustments. Meanwhile closures of Jobcentres and staff redundancies have been made on the basis that a digital by default service will require less staffing and physical premises. No steps have been taken to provide materials in British or Irish Sign Language.

Scotland

  1. We do not yet have evidence of impact of the BSL (Scotland) Act. It is unclear how it will be rolled out because there are not enough BSL interpreters in Scotland to meet demand. There is also an issue around advocacy in that there is a presumption that advocates (for example in justice or social security) can reasonably be a hearing person. Scottish DDPOs raised this issue and the need for advocates to be BSL users. In the UKG follow up report cover letter, language and communication are referred to as “cross cutting enablers” rather than understood as rights.

114f) Ensure access to justice, by providing appropriate legal advice and support, including through reasonable and procedural accommodation for persons with disabilities seeking redress and reparation for the alleged violation of their rights, as covered in the present report;

  1. See paragraph 3.7 for evidence of adverse impacts blocking Disabled people’s access to justice directly resulting from legal aid cuts. There is lack of awareness of the Civil Legal Advice service, including in Wales, resulting in low take up of legal aid. The EHRC has recently launched an inquiry into this matter.

  2. The claim made in the Follow Up report that mandatory reconsideration (MR) has not restricted access to the appeals process (for welfare benefit decisions) is un-evidenced. Anecdotally we hear from many Disabled people who cannot cope with going through both MR and an appeal and so give up, despite the impoverishment it results in. It is welcome that the government has now publicly dropped its target for at least 80% of MR decisions to uphold the original decision but the majority of MR decisions continue to do this in contrast to the majority of appeal decisions which over-turn it.136 A claimant has much less chance of access to redress with MR than with an appeal, to which MR acts as a barrier. Between 2013 and September 2017 557,000 people who were turned down at MR failed to then go on to appeal.137 We do not know how many of those would have won.

114g) Actively consult and engage with persons with disabilities through their representative organizations and give due consideration to their views in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of any legislation, policy or programme action related to the rights addressed in the present report;

  1. UK DDPOs continue to experience very poor engagement and are frequently turned down to meet UK government Ministers. See paragraphs 6.1 – 6.2 and Annex D for more detail.

  2. We look forward to hearing more from the UKG about their plans to reinvigorate stakeholder engagement as cited in their follow up report.

  3. The Follow Up report mentions two specific consultation exercises:

  • Improving Lives”. See comments at paragraph 14.

  • The consultation for widening eligibility for the Blue Badge scheme took place only after a legal challenge by a Disabled person.138

114 h) Take appropriate measures to combat any negative and discriminatory stereotypes or prejudice against persons with disabilities in public and the media, including that dependency on benefits is in itself a disincentive of employment; implement broad mass media campaigns, in consultation with organizations representing persons with disabilities, particularly those affected by the welfare reform, to promote them as full rights holders, in accordance with the Convention; and adopt measures to address complaints of harassment and hate crime by persons with disabilities, promptly investigate those allegations, hold the perpetrators accountable and provide fair and appropriate compensation to victims;

  1. We are pleased that UKG will be refreshing its Hate Crime Action Plan and we hope to see it improved through stakeholder engagement.

  2. Initiatives to tackle disability hate crime continue to be undermined by an unwillingness by the UKG to undertake positive messaging concerning Disabled benefit claimants as equal citizens and full rights holders. There has been considerable investment in recent years in awareness raising programmes to remove mental health stigma, and yet, recent research by Scope has found that 48% of Disabled people have worried about talking about their impairment or condition with an employer.139

  3. The House of Commons Petitions Committee recently undertook an inquiry into online abuse against Disabled people due to the scale of this problem. Much of the abuse, both online and in the street, experienced by Disabled people refers to benefit scrounging/cheats.140 Disabled people were extremely concerned by an online poll conducted by YouGov in March 2018 which asked members of the public whether they thought “those who receive more money from welfare benefits than they pay in taxes” should be allowed to vote in General Elections. It is unknown who commissioned the poll.141

114i) Ensure that, in the implementation of legislation, policies and programmes, special attention is paid to persons with disabilities living with a low income or in poverty and persons with disabilities at higher risk of exclusion, such as persons with intellectual, psychosocial or multiple disabilities and women, children and older persons with disabilities. Those measures should be put in place within contributive and non-contributive regimes;

  1. EHRC research into the cumulative impact of welfare reform and tax measures since 2010 found that negative impacts are particularly large for households with more Disabled members, and individuals with higher support needs.142

114j) Set up a mechanism and a system of human rights-based indicators to permanently monitor the impact of the different policies and programmes relating to the access and enjoyment by persons with disabilities of the right to social protection and an adequate standard of living, the right to live independently and be included in the community and the right to work, in close consultation with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in all regions and countries that constitute the State party;

  1. UK DDPOs continue to call for a cross-departmental, cross-government strategic mechanism to monitor and implement the UNCRPD. The mechanisms listed in the UKG offer insufficient protection against retrogression of Disabled people’s rights.

114k) Respond to the present report within the time limit prescribed under the Optional Protocol, widely disseminate the Committee’s findings and recommendations and provide appropriate follow-up to the recommendations of the present report, including during the consideration of the State party’s initial report before the Committee.

  1. The report has never been disseminated.

E. Civil society follow up information on Concluding Observation recommendations

45a) Recognise the right to living independently and being included in the community as a subjective right and the enforceability of all its elements and adopt rights-based policies, regulations and guidelines for ensuring implementation;

  1. We have concerns that the UKG does not fully understand the right to independent living. The Follow Up report describes provisions within the Care Act 2014 with no evidence of its effectiveness. The experience of DDPOs is that it has failed to protect Disabled people’s Article 19 rights with no credible attempt by the UKG to address retrogression in this area. Currently 1.2 million older and Disabled people are unable to get the care they need, almost double the number since 2010.143 Despite more adults needing care, the number of receiving it has fallen by at least a quarter between 2009/10 and 2013/14 alone.144 A survey by the Care and Support Alliance found that due to a lack of social care over a third of respondents cannot leave their homes and over a quarter have been unable to maintain basics like washing, dressing and/or visiting the toilet. The Follow Up report refers to the Mental Capacity Act but not the amendment bill going through Parliament which in its current form will significantly weaken existing protections.145

Scotland

  1. There is so far scant evidence of any positive impact on the amount of care or Disabled people’s assertion of the quality of care as a result of health and social care integration. LAs continue to raise charges and to lower the threshold for charging.

  2. Scottish DDPOs have consistently called for and now welcome revised Local Housing Strategy (LHS) guidance. However, it is only one part of a much larger picture. There seems to be no room for manoeuvre with the Housing Minister on a national 10% target for wheelchair accessible housing across all tenures.146 We are concerned that without a national minimum target and, with inconsistencies between LA targets, private builders will pick and choose which LA to build in. LAs accept that the data that they use to create their LHS is insufficient and they are not clear on the need for accessible housing. It is also clear that whilst a local target may be set in a LHS (and many LHS make no mention of them), that these targets do not conclusively lead to more accessible housing. More needs to be done to ensure that local targets are met, and that they take account of different property types and all tenures.

Wales

  1. Welsh DDPOs have been involved in a revised Framework for Action on Independent Living through the WG Independent Living Steering Group. It is expected to contain stronger commitments to raising awareness of and implementation of the UNCRDP and positive actions for tackling issues such as the Disability Employment Gap.

  2. The UNCRDP is referenced in the Code but not in the Social Services and Well-being Act itself.147 To make this duty meaningful LAs should develop and provide training and resources to enable them to appropriately implement the UNCRDP when exercising these functions.

45b) Conduct periodic assessments in close consultation with organisations of persons with disabilities to address and prevent the negative effects of the policy reforms through sufficiently funded and appropriate strategies in the area of social support and living independently;

  1. As stated in the UKG Follow Up report, the promised green paper on future funding for social care is now expected in Autumn 2018.148 It will only deal with social care for older people. A parallel work-stream looking at working age adult social care appears poorly thought through with no clear explanation for how this fits with the green paper. Lack of engagement with DDPOs on social care has been widely criticised149 and is evident from our omission in paragraph 17 of the Follow Up report.

Scotland

  1. Regulation has been passed in Scottish Government to effectively extend free personal care to under 65s150 with effect from 01 April 2019. However, the details of how this will be implemented have not yet been published. It should be noted that it is not social care but “personal care” that will be free. This means that for many who currently pay care charges, there may be little or no difference to what they are charged for their care package.

Wales

  1. The WG has set a maximum weekly charge on LA social care of £80 across LAs in Wales. Ministers are exploring the use of tax raising powers to introduce a compulsory insurance scheme to pay for older people’s care.

  2. The WG agreed to extend the time frame for completing assessments for former ILF recipients as not all LAs had made sufficient progress. Following a grassroots campaign against its closure, the WG agreed to the development of a questionnaire to be circulated to WILG recipients to obtain their experiences of the assessment process and whether they feel that their needs will continue to be met once transferred to LA support. The questionnaire was developed and is independently monitored by All Wales Forum for Parents and Carers with support from Disability Wales. Analysis of responses to date indicate that, whilst two thirds are satisfied with the assessment process and their new package, approximately one third is not for various reasons.

45c) Provide adequate and sufficient and earmarked funding to local authorities and administrations, the devolved governments and overseas territories to be able to provide resources allowing persons with disabilities to live independently and be included in the community and to exercise their right to choose their place of residence and where, and with whom to live;

  1. Additional funding from the UKG for social care is insufficient to address the scale of the crisis, as outlined by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services in their 2018 budget survey report.151 In March 2018 the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that UKG plans for the future of funding for local authorities “risk a growing funding gap for adult social care and conflict with efforts to provide consistent and high-quality care services across the country”.152

  2. Additional funding for Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) is welcome. Investment in DFGs has been shown to be cost effective for councils while meeting Disabled people’s housing needs. Delays in processing applications can still be a problem for under-resourced local authorities.153

Wales

  1. Welsh DDPOs and other organisations are calling for more robust commitments from the WG in the revised independent living framework in tackling the chronic shortage of accessible and adaptable homes in Wales (as evidenced in the EHRC Housing Inquiry Report). Specifically, they are calling for each LA to adopt, develop and implement an Accessible Housing Register (AHR) and for the WG to develop standards and monitor the effectiveness of AHRs.

45d) Set up a comprehensive plan, developed in close collaboration with organisations of persons with disabilities, aimed at deinstitutionalisation of persons with disabilities, and develop community-based independent living schemes through a holistic and crosscutting approach, including education, childcare, transport, housing, employment and social security; and

  1. We welcome any decrease in numbers of Disabled people in long-stay institutions. Funding constraints at local level prevent LAs from developing the range of community-based support services that is needed. We are disappointed that the UKG has not followed up this recommendation to set up a comprehensive deinstitutionalisation plan in close collaboration with DDPOs.

Scotland

  1. The 10 year Mental Health Strategy is in the right direction, but there is no evidence of any impact so far. The issue of substitute decision making has not been tackled and there is considerable evidence that those with mental health issues, particularly children and young people, cannot access appropriate services when they need them. Until the review ends and the consultation process announces what changes will be put in place, we do not know if these actions will result in Disabled people securing their human rights or perhaps even having less rights than previously. In these two processes (Mental Health Act Review and Incapacity Consultation) there have been serious flaws in the way that Disabled people have been involved.154

45e) Allocate sufficient resources to ensure that support services are available, accessible, affordable, acceptable and adaptable sensitive to different living conditions for all persons with disabilities in urban and rural areas.

  1. See paragraph 3.1 for evidence of the adverse impacts of English LAs increasing their charges for social care.155

57a) Develop and decide upon an effective employment policy for persons with disabilities aimed at ensuring decent work for all persons with disabilities, bearing in mind the target of one million jobs for persons with disabilities and envisaged by the State Party, and ensure, equal pay for work of equal value, especially focusing on women with disabilities, persons with psychosocial and/or intellectual disabilities as well as persons with visual impairments, and monitor development;

  1. Official statistics analysed by Scope in September 2017 showed more Disabled people leaving than entering employment.156 The fact of an additional 600,000 Disabled people in employment over the past four years needs to be understood within the context of both a rising population and a rising percentage of the working age population who are Disabled. This percentage rose from 16% in 2012/13 to 19% according to the latest data available from the DWP in May 2018.157 The disability employment gap continues to remain unchanged. Since 2010 the number of Disabled people in self-employment has risen by 244,435.158 Research published in August 2017 showed that more than half of all self-employed people failing to earn a decent living, alongside evidence that two in five of the UK workforce are still in​ ‘bad jobs’.159

  2. DDPOs have extensive and grave concerns regarding approaches promoted by the Work and Health Unit160 that involve psycho-compulsion and are not consistent with a human rights model of disability.161 We do not welcome the doubling of Employment Advisers in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies services which will further undermine effective therapeutic provision for the rising numbers of people with mental health support needs.162

  3. Funding for the Work and Health programme163 represents just one quarter of the annual spending on the work programme which it replaced in March 2017.

Scotland

  1. So far this is output not outcome with no evidence so far. The consultation on public sector targets has not yet reported. Scottish DDPOs are advising on the forthcoming Disability Employment Action Plan via an ‘Expert Advisory Group.’ The difference in principles and values with some organisations which are not DDPOs who are also involved is evident. There is concern that the work will fail to lead to the sea change that is needed but instead to more of the same: employability services which focus on Disabled people’s perceived deficits and little on supporting employers to stop discriminating. This will then fail to address the employment gap. There is no detail of how the £1m to support employers will be designed. DDPOs have proposed a one stop shop, provided by Disabled people with lived experience of what works, but off record indications are that the money will go to existing employability services.

  2. It is welcome that the new Fair Start Scotland scheme is voluntary and non-participation does not affect benefits. However, the 38,000 target is for all participants, it is not solely for Disabled people for whom there is no specific target and includes an offer of supported employment, an internationally recognised ‘place and train’ model enabling Disabled people to learn on the job with support from colleagues and a job coach. This is a good intention but so far it is just an on output and not an outcome. Despite efforts by DDPOs, of the 9 contracts awarded for Fair Start Scotland, they did not include partnerships with DDPOs.164

  3. When EHRC (Scotland) reviewed the PSED in April 2017, they looked at the publication rates for the equal pay statement. For listed authorities with more than 150 staff, April 2017 was the first reporting cycle in which their equal pay statements had to detail occupational segregation grades (vertical) and occupations (horizontal) for disability, gender and race. Less than 50% of listed authorities published any meaningful analysis of occupational segregation information by disability.165

  4. Inclusion Scotland, as a DDPO, runs the Scottish Government’s Internship Programme. It capably demonstrates that Disabled people are best placed to design and deliver support for employment.

  5. We have expectations for Scotland’s the BSL National Plan 2017-2023. Amongst other areas, this should ensure that government funded employment programmes and training opportunities are accessible to BSL users, and the creation of experience panels of Deaf people to test the accessibility of the new social security system.

Wales

  1. Welsh DDPOs and other organisations are calling on the WG to introduce its own version of “Disability Confident” which will be more credible with Disabled people, employers and other stakeholders including active engagement of Disabled people, support and resources to employers to develop inclusive workplaces and independent monitoring.

  2. A Ministerial announcement is expected later in 2018 concerning the WG’s proposed plan and package of measures to reduce the disability employment gap in Wales, which stands at 36% and in some regions is even higher e.g. 50% in Neath and Port Talbot.166

57b) Ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to all persons with disabilities who require it in the workplace, that regular training on reasonable accommodation is available to employers and employees without disabilities, and that dissuasive and effective sanctions are in place in cases of denial of reasonable accommodation;

  1. Responsibility to challenge breaches of the Equality Act 2010 and the duty to provide reasonable adjustments rests on the individual Deaf or Disabled person who may themselves be unfamiliar with the law. We welcome the inquiry by the Women and Equalities Committee and hope the UKG will respond positively to its recommendations.

57c) Ensure that legal and administrative requirements of the process to assess working capabilities, including the Work Capability Assessment, and those who conduct the assessments are qualified in line with the human rights model of disability, and take into consideration work related as well as other personal circumstances. The State party must ensure adjustments and support necessary to access to work and recognise financial support not subjected to sanctions or job seeking activities;

  1. Both the WCA and the assessment for PIP were purposefully designed not to follow the social model and to align instead with the Waddell and Aylward biopsychosocial model of disability as functional assessments. This was clearly articulated during the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill through Parliament in 2012. Government Minister Lord Freud stated: “our approach is…akin to the biopsychosocial model… It is not, however, a full social model assessment. I accept that. That is something that many noble Lords and disability organisations would like, but I have to point out that it was not our intention to develop it in this way. As a department, we do support the social model.”167 Within the WCA there is continued reliance on forms of communication such as written correspondence and form-filling that are inherently inaccessible for many Deaf sign language users.

  2. The claim made in paragraph 88 of the UKG response that “claimants will not be asked to undertake anything that is unrealistic or could put their health at risk” cannot be substantiated. Evidence points to widespread failures by work coaches to make reasonable adjustments, leading to work earlier this year by the DWP Accessible Taskforce to produce guidelines to relieve what had become an urgent problem. A survey by PCS Union published in February 2018 revealed that nearly three quarters of frontline UC staff believe they have not been sufficiently well trained to do their job properly and feel ill-equipped to “deal with some of the most vulnerable members of society”.168

57d) Withdraw its reservation to article 27 of the Convention; and

  1. We note the review mentioned in the UKG Follow Up report.

57e) Bear in mind the links between article 27 of the Convention and target 8.5 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

  1. UK DDPOs are not currently funded to participate in discussions or work relating to targets to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

59a) Introduce, adopt and implement legislative frameworks to ensure that social protection policies and programmes across the State party secure income levels for all persons with disabilities and their families, by taking into account the additional costs related to disability, and ensuring the possibility of persons with disabilities to exercise their parental responsibilities. The State party must ensure that persons under the new Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group access to full compensation of disability related costs.

  1. The strong links between disability and poverty indicate an insufficiency of social security protection.169 Three quarters of households using foodbanks contain someone with a health condition and/or impairment and one third contain someone with mental health support needs.170 It should be noted that the estimated 54bn spent on benefits to support Disabled people cited in the UKG Follow Up report171 includes spend not directly linked to disability such as housing benefit as well as benefits and compensation paid to Disabled people’s family members including Carer’s Allowance and Industrial Death Benefit.172 Recent analysis also shows that spending increases on disability benefits have not kept up with inflation, representing real terms losses for Disabled people.173

  2. The UKG response states that “UC encourages people into work”. This is misleading. As a recent report from the NAO states: “Both we, and the Department174, doubt it will ever be possible for the Department to measure whether the economic goal of increasing employment has been achieved”.175

  3. The UKG has been resistant to ensuring Disabled people are not financially worse off under UC. Though it is welcome that Disabled people who migrate onto UC through change of circumstance will now receive transitional protection against shortfall between their UC entitlement and their legacy benefit, it should be noted that this was only brought about through a legal challenge taken by two severely Disabled men who had lost £178 a month, leaving them unable to meet many of their basic needs.176 The DWP applied for permission to appeal the High Court ruling which found the men had experienced discrimination and initially attempted to appeal against the court ruling that the two men should be paid damages for their losses.177 New transitional protection guidance that was put out for consultation following the court case suggest paying transitional protection at a flat rate for those migrated onto UC through change of circumstance rather than matching their losses as occurs under managed migration.178

  4. No compensation for loss of income through the ESA WRAG cut has been forthcoming from the UKG.179 The Follow Up report says no families have experienced a cash loss. This is because the cut was not applied to existing claimants. Existing claimants who move into work but then need to go back onto ESA will be affected by the reduced rate and this acts as a disincentive to employment. The report also states the change “did not affect anyone whose ability to work is significantly limited by their health condition”. Given widespread inaccuracies and level of unacceptable standards found in assessments for ESA, this assertion cannot be made.180 Significant numbers of Disabled people wrongly assessed as capable of work related activity and put in the WRAG are subsequently placed in the Support Group (SG) on appeal. Many others cannot face appealing and struggle on.

  5. There are similar concerns regarding the quality and accuracy of PIP assessments.181 See paragraph 19 for comments on PIP rates.

  6. We note that concerns have still not been addressed about the costs of hearing parents of Deaf children to learn British or Irish Sign Language in order to communicate with their children. While civil society organisations are implementing programmes to attempt to address this crisis, without government-led subsidies and grants, the issue cannot be fully addressed. Without support, families are being faced with costs of tens of thousands to acquire a language they can use with their own children.182

Wales

  1. The JRF Report Poverty in Wales 2018 (7 March 2018), found that 39% of Disabled people in Wales are in poverty compared with 22% of non-Disabled people; and that the poverty rate among Disabled people in Wales is the highest in all of the UK.183

  2. It is estimated in Wales that almost a third of DLA claimants were refused PIP amounting to a total loss of £87m.184

59b) Carry out a cumulative impact assessment, with disaggregated data, about the recent and coming reforms on the social protection for persons with disabilities, and in close collaboration with organisations of persons with disabilities define, implement and monitor measures to tackle retrogression in their standard of living and use it as a basis for policy development across the State party; and

  1. See paragraph 8.

59c) Repeal the Personal Independent Payment (Amendment) Regulations of 2017 and ensure that eligibility criteria and assessments to access Personal Independent Payments, the Employment Support Allowance, and the Universal Credit are in line with the human rights model of disability;

  1. The PIP regulation changes were repealed but only following a legal challenge taken by a Disabled woman who was personally affected.185 We are concerned about the timetable for reviewing claims to identify the 200,000 claimants who lost entitlement due to the changes and are owed back-payments. We call for this to be undertaken as a matter of urgency.

  2. We contest that assessments for PIP and ESA/UC which, effectively deny eligibility to Disabled people in need of support, are in line with a human rights model of disability.

59d) Ensure sufficient budget allocation for local authorities to accomplish their responsibilities regarding assistance for persons with disabilities, and extend support packages to mitigate negative impacts of the social security reform in Northern Ireland; and

  1. Overwhelming evidence points to the unsustainability of English LAs creating a desperate situation of rising levels of unmet need.186

Scotland

  1. Devolution of social security benefits to Scotland is not yet online and there is no evidence of impact yet, only intention. However, the approach by Scottish Government, and elements of the Act including rights to advocacy, are welcomed.

Wales

  1. Despite the WG endeavouring to protect funding to social care, the overall cuts are having a significant impact on the amount and quality of care provided. UNISON Cymru recently described the home care system in Wales as being ‘in crisis’ including insufficient training for care staff in carrying out their role.187

59e) Conduct a review of the conditionality and sanction regimes concerning the Employment and Support Allowance, and tackle negative consequences on mental health and situation of persons with disabilities.

  1. See comments at paragraph 3.6 concerning welfare conditionality. Since 2010, over 110,000 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions and 900,000 Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) sanctions of Disabled people have been applied with a further 140,000 ESA and 160,000 JSA sanctions of Disabled people applied but later cancelled. Disabled people on JSA are 26 – 53% times more likely to be sanctioned that non-Disabled JSA claimants.188 The UKG continues to resist calls to use its own data to conduct an evaluation into the impact of conditionality.189 Research into experiences of conditionality by Disabled people shows damaging mental health impacts.190 Welfare conditionality is predicated on the idea that benefit claimants are work resistant and need to have their behaviour changed under threat of punishment. It denies the material reality of the barriers that Disabled people face to earning a living through employment and is not consistent with a human rights approach to disability.

Scotland

  1. It is unclear what the specific impact of the Scottish Welfare Fund is for Disabled people.

F. UK DDPO Recommendations

UK DDPOs continue to support the recommendations made by the UN Disability Committee in both their 2016 inquiry report and the Concluding Observations in 2017.

In addition, we call on UKG and, where relevant, devolved governments, to:

  1. Legislate for Disabled people’s right to independent living and being included in the community as set out in Article 19 of the UNCRPD, including through enshrinement of the full UNCRPD in domestic legislation.

  2. Implement Section 1 of the Equality Act 2014 in England and Wales, bringing into force a socio-economic duty.

  3. Establish a mechanism for implementation and monitoring of the UNCRPD across UK government including public bodies and local authorities including monitoring the accessibility and impact of consultation exercises on UNCRPD implementation.

  4. Commit to open and transparent engagement with UK DDPOs on implementation of the UNCRPD including funding DDPOs so they can fully engage.

  5. Embed DDPO engagement in policy development and review across government.

  6. Undertake a review of disability data collection across government with a view to improvement and also including how DDPOs can be funded and trained in Washington Group data so that DDPOs can contribute to data collection.

  7. Establish:

    • an independent body responsible for modelling the amount of funding needed both by social care to ensure future funding keeps pace with need. and by DDPOs, including those representing inter-sectional issues, alternative and culturally appropriate models.

    • an independent living task force led by Disabled people to develop proposals for independent living support for the future.

  8. Ensure funding for user-led research related to services and resources which are important to Disabled people.

  9. Abolish charging for social care.

  10. Pause the passage of the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill to undertake engagement with stakeholders and ensure the legislation is consistent with the UNCRPD.

  11. Take action to appropriately address the concerns of DDPOS and mental health survivors/users regarding the independent review of the Mental Health Act, its failure to consider relevant articles of the UNCRPD, inadequate engagement with people with lived experience, including those from marginalised communities, its inadequate supply of information and serious shortcomings in the interim report.

  12. Put an urgent focus on intersectional issues, both “protected characteristics” recognised in the Equality Act 2010 and those not yet addressed under this Act.

  13. Urgently invest more in community services and appropriate therapeutic support for children and young people experiencing mental distress capable of addressing complex and enduring needs.

  14. Remove the UKG reservation and interpretative declaration on Article 24 and the right to inclusive education.

  15. Stop placing children and young people in long stay hospitals which is not consistent with article 19 & 24 and to invest budgets into improving community services.

  16. As education up to 16 years is compulsory in the UK, inclusive education should be embedded across all the articles

  17. Stop the increase in establishment of special schools and transfer of resources from existing mainstream services to segregated services.

  18. Carry out a study to calculate the value for money of the Access to Work scheme.

  19. Stop the roll out of Universal Credit and design a social security system for the future that is based on an accurate analysis of need and is consistent with a human rights approach to disability.

  20. Undertake data modelling to assess the access and support needs of benefit claimants to inform policy development.

  21. Overhaul assessments of PIP and ESA and replace with assessments that take into account the real world barriers that Disabled people face.

  22. Carry out a review of the impacts of conditionality and end benefit sanctioning.

Wales

We call on the WG to:

  1. Incorporate the CRDP into Welsh law and policy.

  2. Develop and produce a code of practice on the implementation of the CRDP in exercising its functions.

  3. Encourage the adoption of Accessible Housing Registers in each LA and develop Standards on the monitoring and effectiveness of AHR.

  4. Introduce and resource the development of a “made in Wales” version of the Employers Disability Confident Scheme which is independently monitored.

Scotland

We call on Scottish Government, alongside taking account of the applicable actions in the UK section of this Annex, to:

  1. Ensure that that DDPOs in particular those of learning disabled people, are included in the development of policies relating to deprivation of liberty, assessment of capacity and supported decision-making.

  2. Work with DDPOs on a national debate on the future funding of social care including (i) the incompatibility between tendering requirements and Disabled people’s choice and control and (ii) abolishing charging, and then take action.

  3. Review, publish and act on the outcomes for Disabled people as a result of Fairer Scotland for Disabled People and extend these actions to cover other issues raised by disabled people as priorities for change.

  4. In keeping with the principles of the CRPD, ensure that the focus of forthcoming plan on employment takes account of the barriers presented by policies and practises and removes the focus on perceived deficits by Disabled people.

  5. In keeping with Recommendations 11.a and 11.b of the Concluding Observations191, ensure allocation of financial resources to support DDPOs and develop mechanisms to ensure the full participation of DDPOs in the design and implementation of policies, and monitor and measure these, including the Fairer Scotland for Disabled People Delivery Plan.

  1. Commit to a national strategy for the provision of accessible housing and consider the potential for creating a new, cross tenure, design and adaptability standard that would ensure homes for rent and private sale are accessible to Disabled people.

Annex A

THE GLOBAL DISABILITY SUMMIT 2018: CHARTER FOR CHANGE

#DisabilitySummit #NowIsTheTime

We gather here in London and across the world to achieve a common aim: to ensure the rights, freedoms, dignity and inclusion for all persons with disabilities.

Important progress has been made in the decade since the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). But we must do more. We must strive for real change through the Convention’s implementation and the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals for persons with disabilities. Now is the time.

So today we commit to:

1. Catalyse political will and leadership to turn our promises into change; in long-term plans that we invest in, implement and review.

2. Promote the leadership and diverse representation of all persons with disabilities to be front and centre of change; as leaders, partners and advocates. This includes the active involvement and close consultation of persons with disabilities of all ages.

3. Eliminate stigma and discrimination through legislation and policies that make a difference, promoting meaningful leadership, and consistently challenging harmful attitudes and practices. All people deserve dignity and respect.

4. Progress and support actions that advance inclusive quality education for people with disabilities, with the necessary resources to put plans into practice: every child has the right to learn from birth.

5. Open up routes to economic empowerment and financial inclusion so that persons with disabilities can enjoy decent work and achieve financial independence. This will mean creating more and better jobs, providing social protection, ensuring the necessary skills training, making workplaces accessible and hiring people with disabilities.

6. Revolutionise the availability and affordability of appropriate assistive technology, including digital, which will enable persons with disabilities to fully participate and contribute to society.

7. Change practices to make all humanitarian action fully inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. We will mainstream inclusion across all Disaster Risk Reduction and humanitarian sectors, and implement our commitments in the Charter ‘Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action’. 8. ‘Leave no one behind’ and put the furthest behind first. We will champion the rights of the most under-represented and marginalised persons with disabilities, of all ages, affected by any form of multiple discrimination, and notably women and girls with disabilities.

9. Gather and use better data and evidence to understand and address the scale, and nature, of challenges faced by persons with disabilities, using tested tools including the Washington Group Disability Question Sets.

10. Hold ourselves and others to account for the promises we have made here today. We agree that our individual commitments will be reviewed, assessed and published on a regular basis, with the results published online.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/global-disability-summit-charter-for-change

Annex B

Inclusion London briefing on Mental Capacity (Amendment) bill

As an organisation that is run and controlled by Disabled people we are extremely concerned about the Mental Capacity Amendment Bill, that is currently at the Committee Stage in the House of Lords. We believe this bill will have a significant, negative impact on Disabled people’s human rights. Our concerns are echoed by leading academics and lawyers. Provider organisations such as Dimensions who would be given significant new responsibilities under the bill have also raised serious concerns.

Our key concerns:

The lack of consultation with people affected by the bill and their organisations – In many important aspects the bill is at odds with what has been proposed by the Law Commission after it undertook its review and engagement. There is no evidence of the engagement with people who are affected to discuss the divergence from initial proposals. We are also seriously concerned about the fact that none of the materials for the bill and the bill itself are available in alternative formats, especially in Easy-Read. This indicates to us that people who are affected could not and still aren’t able to meaningfully engage with the proposed changes. We therefore believe the passage of the bill should be halted at least until all the materials are available in accessible formats and consultation undertaken.

Weakening human rights protection – not only does the bill go against the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD192), which the UK has ratified, it will significantly weaken the few existing protections people have under current legislation. We know deprivation of liberty is often used as an alternative to providing better and sometimes more expensive care. The bill makes it easier to detain people. It removes independent assessments for the majority of cases, except when a care home manager or a local authority decides that the person concerned is objecting. The bill does not require them to consult with the person concerned, give any weight to their wishes and feelings or even to inform them or their relatives about the decisions that are being made. There are no attempts to introduce elements of the supported decision-making system. The bill restricts access to independent advocacy and does not improve in any way the person’s ability to challenge decisions that are made about them. The bill does not make it clear that deprivation of liberty cannot be used when other less restrictive options, such as providing more support or looking at true reasons behind the person’s “challenging behaviour” could work to achieve the aim.

We believe amendments are needed in the following areas to ensure the bill is compliant with international human rights standards including the UNCRPD and the ECHR:

  • Ensuring everything is done to promote Disabled people’s liberty including provision of sufficient and appropriate support, so deprivation is only ever as a last resort.

  • Making it easy to challenge decisions that deprive liberty, including by ensuring everyone has a right to an advocate of their choice and a duty to refer cases to the Court of Protection when there is a dispute and access to non-means tested legal aid.   

  • Ensuring significant weight is given to people’s wishes and wants when decisions are made, including choice of a person who will support them to make decisions or makes decisions for them.

  • Preventing deprivation of liberty for the purpose of protecting others.

  • Ensuring effective participation of the person in the process: they should be consulted, informed in an accessible way, asked if they want to challenge and helped to do it if they want to.

  • Putting in place effective safeguards to ensure people are not deprived of their liberty unnecessarily.

  • Access to independent advocacy should be on an opt out basis.

Annex C

Examples of engagement with DDPOs in specific policy areas that show room for improvement

  1. UKG

1.1 Future of social care (Article 19)

1.11 To all intents and purposes DDPOs have effectively been excluded from all work and consultation on the future of social care.

1.12 Jackie Doyle-Price The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Heath gave an oral statement on 7 December 2017193announcing the Green paper on Social care for older people, a series of roundtable consultation events with stakeholders and a parallel programme of work on working age social care led by the Department of Health & Social care (DHSC) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

1.13 Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (a Disabled Peer) raised concerns about the parallel programme of work on working age social care in the House of Lords on 20 February 2018194 only to find out that a round-table event on working age social care was being organised without any representation from DDPOs. Following an intervention from Lord Cormack, Baroness Campbell was invited to the roundtable meeting which took place on 28 February 2018 at which no DDPOs were present.

1.14 On 4 April 2018 Inclusion London and 34 other DDPOs195 wrote to Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Social Care, expressing our concern at the lack of DDPO involvement in the round table event and requesting DDPOs active involvement in the work on working age social care going forward. In her reply196 dated 11 May 2018 the Minister stated that since the roundtable “officials have met with a range of people including, Disability Rights UK, people with lived experience and national charities and further discussions are planned”. There was no specific mention of, or commitment to meet, DDPOs in her letter.

1.15 Inclusion London received an email from Helen Wiggins at the DHSC on 17 May requesting a meeting to discuss the parallel working age work stream. We asked if we could open the meeting up to our DDPO members and on 11 July a two hour meeting took place between two representatives from DHSC and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (the DHSC representative turned up an hour late), and Inclusion London & member DDPOs. Neither representative from the government could cite any other engagement with DDPOs (except DRUK) in the working age consultation but they did confirm they had met with a number of charities.

1.16 To our knowledge the 11 July meeting has been the only meeting between the government and DDPOs on the future of social care.

    1. Inclusive Education

1.21 On 25 May 2018 the Parliamentary under-Secretary of State for Children and Families wrote to the Alliance for Inclusive Education to turn down a request to meet to discuss Article 24 rights. There is currently no mechanism for dialogue with UKG over Article 24.

1.3 Review of Personal Independence Payment Regulations

1.31 After the High Court quashed changes to the Personal Independence Payment Regulations which the government rushed through in February 2017 to prevent many people living with mental distress from qualifying for higher rates of PIP in the case of RF v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the DWP had to revise the guidance which is used by the assessors to determine whether or not a person meets criteria to qualify for this benefit. 

1.32 During April and May 2018 the lawyers from the Public Law Project (PLP) who represented the claimant (RF) urged, on her behalf, the DWP staff responsible for drafting the changes to engage with DDPOs for feedback about the proposed changes.  DDPOs even offered practical help, such as sending information and collating feedback, which was passed on to the DWP. The DWP sent RF and her barristers the draft guidance changes which they stressed could not be shared with anyone else. At this point, PLP sent them the contact details of DDPOs that were involved in the case and had offered to give feedback on the regulations and again urged the DWP to send the draft to them.  The DWP’s initial response dated 24 April 2018 stated that they were undertaking a “targeted stakeholder feedback” with named organisations, only one of which could be considered a DDPO. Then 7 days, before the 30 May 2018 deadline for this targeted feedback exercise, DWP officials told PLP that “it would be challenging to involve organisations who haven’t previously been involved in discussions with the Department” and they “do not intend on widening the engagement”. On 25 May 2018, DWP officials confirmed that the only offer they could provide for engagement from other DDPOs, including those who had been involved in the case and as named by RF, was to email their general email address without access to seeing the draft guidance itself.

  1. Scotland

    1. Adults with Incapacity Act/Mental Health Act (Articles 12, 19 and 28)

2.11 People First Scotland (PFS) has been involved with Scottish Government in relation to consultations on two Acts – proposed changes to the Adults with Incapacity Act and a limited review of the Mental Health Act. The Acts impact on Article 12 (Equal Recognition before the Law, specifically exercise of legal capacity) as well as on Articles 19 and 28, in respect of people with intellectual impairments (learning disability). If the Acts, in their current forms are applied to an individual, they both effectively remove self- determination, freedom of movement and association, impacting on our enjoyment of the above Articles, and others. No firm conclusions have yet emerged from either Review. We recognise the willingness of officials to meet with DDPOs and to publish Disabled people’s input in the Review documents, however it seems that little weight has been given to this input and little has changed.

2.12 PFS highlighted the disparity and their own disappointment at being excluded from policy development work to develop policies on deprivation of liberty, assessment of capacity and supported decision-making. This is despite the fact that it is PFS members who are being deprived of their liberty and whose legal capacity is being removed on the grounds of impaired intellectual capacity and despite this being the only organisation to have produced a framework for supported decision-making in Scotland.

2.2 Work and employment (Article 27)

2.21 Inclusion Scotland, and other DDPOs, were members of the Congress Planning Group. The Congress, which took place in April 2018, is one of the Actions (no 49) from the Fairer Scotland Delivery Plan and was positioned as a key milestone towards the Scottish Government’s goal to ‘at least half the employment gap’ (Action no 28 of the Delivery Plan). Other, non-DDPO, 3rd sector disability organisations were also part of this planning group by invitation of the Scottish Government and there were difficulties around our different values and how the Congress would meet (or not as it turned out) these values. The role of DDPO’s in working with Government to progress rights, and dignity in this case, was undermined. Scottish Government could usefully be reminded of the central role that DDPOs play in the UNCRPD process, and to demonstrate clearly that they understand the distinction between DDPOs (organisations of) and disability organisations (organisations for).

.

2.22 Inclusion Scotland is currently part of the Scottish Government’s Expert Advisory Group working towards publication of a “Disability Equality Action Plan”, due in October. The aim of this is to develop actions to ‘at least half the employment gap’. However, early indications are that this will focus on employability services for Disabled people, at the expense of support to grow employer’s own “employerability”. The need to support “employerability” is a solution arising from the Annual Disabled People’s Summit and promoted in our report Situations Vacant. Scottish Government has been advised of Disabled people’s solutions to halve the employment gap, but appear to favour an employability approach thus perpetuating the belief that our unemployment is due to a deficit in our skills and attitudes.

Annex D

Independent review of the Mental Health Act

These have been some particular concerns for DDPOs, individuals with lived experience and allies who signed a letter from NSUN197 about the Mental Health Act Review dated 29 May 2018. There were over 120 co-signatories to the letter including 40 DDPOs, with the remainder coming from individuals with lived experience and allies (both organisational and individual). Concerns include:

  • Limits to the co-production principle set out in the terms of reference

  • An inadequate focus both on the UNCRPD itself and on recommendations from the Convention’s Committee last October. There are also concerns about the impact which Brexit may have on the human rights of people in mental distress

  • The unrealistic speed of the Review

  • A difficulty for Disabled people with making informed choices both because of a lack of publicity about alternatives to the Mental Health Act 1983 and because of inadequate information about the Review itself

  • Current flaws in data collection from people with lived experience who belong to marginalised communities, including those who come from BAME communities, have learning difficulties, are deaf, experience gender issues, have physical disabilities, or sight impairments, identify as LGB, or T and/or are older

  • Serious shortfalls in the quality of the interim report

  • The prevalence of a clinical model and clinical language in the report.

NSUN representatives have raised these concerns through channels such as the Review’s advisory panel meetings, topic groups and stakeholder events, the letter to the Review Chair and Vice Chairs on 29 May and meetings with the Chair, Vice Chairs and members of the secretariat. However, replies received have not been adequate. The response to NSUN’s letter at the meeting held to discuss it on 13 July 2018 was experienced as both unsatisfactory and discourteous. In particular, the Chair challenged whether DDPOs would really want the UNCRPD fully implemented. NSUN is now in process of putting together a follow-up letter, in consultation with co-signatories to the first letter, and drafting a further set of detailed recommendations about changes needed if the Review is to be compliant with the human rights set out in the UNCRPD.

Annex E

List of DDPOs who contributed to this report

Alliance for Inclusive Education

Black Triangle

British Deaf Association

Deaf Scotland

Disability Action (Northern Ireland)

Disabled People Against Cuts

DPAC Bristol and South-West

Disability Wales

Inclusion London

Inclusion Scotland

Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living

Merton CIL

National Survivor and User Network

People First Scotland,

People First (Self Advocacy)

Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance

Sisters of Frida

Transport for All.

1 An organisation is a DDPO if: their Management Committee or Board has at least 75% of representation from Deaf and Disabled people; at least 50% of their paid staff team are Deaf or Disabled people with representation at all levels of the organisation; they provide services for, or work on behalf of, Deaf and Disabled people; and they follow an equality and human rights approach in their work. We use the terminology “Deaf and Disabled people” to reflect the cultural model of Deafness, whereby Deaf sign language users identify not as Disabled people but instead as a linguistic minority.

2 The following DDPOs have contributed to and support this report: Alliance for Inclusive Education, Black Triangle, British Deaf Association, Deaf Scotland, Disability Action (Northern Ireland), Disabled People Against Cuts, Disability Wales, Inclusion London, Inclusion Scotland, Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living, Merton CIL, National Survivor and User Network, People First Scotland, People First (Self Advocacy), Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, Sisters of Frida, Transport for All.

3 Towards Disabled children and adults in their areas.

On 8 March 2018, the National Audit Office (NAO) released a report which showed that government funding for local authorities has dropped by 49% in real terms since 2010, resulting in a 29% drop in spending power: National Audit Officer (2018) Financial sustainability of local authorities 2018 [online] Available at: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Financial-sustainabilty-of-local-authorites-2018.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

In July 2018, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warned that government-imposed budget cuts over the last seven years have left a number of councils under “enormous pressure” and “in a worrying financial position”, and raised concern about the lack of government plans to secure councils’ financial future:

UK Parliament (2018) No Government plan to secure councils’ financial future – News from Parliament. [online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/news-parliament-2017/financial-sustainability-local-authorities-report-published-17-19/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

By enforcing a section 114 notice, Northamptonshire County Council has become the first LA in over 20 years to effectively declare itself bankrupt, banning all new expenditure in order to hit its legally required balanced budget. Other local authorities are likely to follow suit. Somerset County Council, for example, was recently warned by auditors that it was due to run out of money imminently. The NAO revealed that one in 10 LAs could run out of reserves within the next three years. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism also found that 22 councils had reduced these reserves by more than 50% in the last five years.

Davies, G. (2018). County councils in crisis: three more named as showing signs of financial distress. [online] The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Available at: https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2018-03-08/councils-in-crisis-three-more-named-as-showing-signs-of-financial-distress [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Fogg, N. (2018). Will Northamptonshire be the last council to go bankrupt? We’ve crunched the numbers. [online] Citymetric.com. Avail able at: https://www.citymetric.com/politics/will-northamptonshire-be-last-council-go-bankrupt-we-ve-crunched-numbers-3773 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

The Children’s Commissioner for England has warned that “vulnerable children” face “catastrophe” over crisis-hit councils: BBC News. (2018). Vulnerable children facing ‘catastrophe’. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-45069057 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

4 Since last year we have experienced growing numbers of English LAs adopting harsher charging policies to increase the amount that Disabled people have to pay towards the costs of their social care. All but one local authority currently chooses to exercise their power to make a charge for social care services to people who need support. Over a third (41%) of social care users surveyed by national inclusion charity In Control said they had experienced a substantial increase in the level of charge over the past 2 years. A third of people providing a figure for the increase in charges said they had experienced an increase of over 50% in the last two years. This research is not yet published (due November 2018).

5 An investigation by GMB union found more than 166,000 people are trapped in debt for their social care. Freedom of Information requests also show at least 1,178 people have been taken to court by local authorities for social care debts. Of the total of at least 166,835 people who are in arrears on their social care payments, more than 78,000 have debt management procedures started against them by their authority for non-payment of social care charges. The true figure is likely to be higher as some authorities didn’t respond:

gmb.org.uk. (2018). GMB – At Least 166,000 Trapped In Social Care Debt. [online] Available at: http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/social-care-debt [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

6 As above, this research is not yet published (due November 2018). Other key findings include: people are having to find money for care and support from other areas of essential spend; 33% reported that they had reduced spending on housing costs; 43% had reduced the amount they spend on food and 40% on heating to meet the cost of care; and 21% reported that they had gone into debt by borrowing to pay for care and support.

7 45,864 new detentions under the Mental Health Act were recorded in 2016/17. The NHS digital statistics service estimates there was an increase in detentions of around 2% from the previous year:

NHS Digital. (2017). Mental Health Act Statistics, Annual Figures: 2016-17, Experimental statistics – NHS Digital. [online] Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-act-statistics-annual-figures/mental-health-act-statistics-annual-figures-2016-17-experimental-statistics [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Data collected for inpatients with learning disabilities and autism at the end of May 2018 showed that of 2,400 inpatients in hospital at the end of the reporting period, 1,405 (59%) had a total length of stay of over 2 years. 41% of inpatients in hospital in May 2018 had travelled over 50km for treatment. Just over half of the people have a date planned for them to leave hospital (1,485):

NHS Digital. (2018). Learning Disability Services Monthly Statistics Provisional Statistics (AT: May 2018, MHSDS: March 2018 Final) – NHS Digital. [online] Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/learning-disability-services-statistics/learning-disability-services-monthly-statistics-provisional-statistics-at-may-2018-mhsds-march-2018-final [Accessed: 11 Sep. 2018].

8 Shared by DDPOs, public lawyers and academics. See Annex B, also:

Inclusion London (2018) Mental Capacity Amendment Bill: Act now to prevent the government from weakening our human protections [online] Available at: https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/campaigns-and-policy/campaigning-networks/il-legal-network/mental-capacity-amendment-bill-act-now-to-prevent-the-government-from-weakening-our-human-rights-protections/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018].

9 In England for example there are around 365,000 Disabled people with unmet housing needs.

GOV.UK. (2018). English housing survey 2014 to 2015: adaptations and accessibility of homes report. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/english-housing-survey-2014-to-2015-adaptations-and-accessibility-of-homes-report [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Social housing is particularly important for Disabled people since Disabled people are twice as likely as non-Disabled people to live in social housing:

AKW (2016) The Social Housing Ageing & Disability Crisis [online] Available at: https://www.akw-ltd.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/AKW_Social_Housing_Ageing_Crisis_Whitepaper.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

In 2015-16 49% of households in the social housing sector had at least one Disabled member:

Department for Communities and Local Government (2017) English Housing Survey Social rented sector, 2015-16 [online]. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/632464/Social_rented_sector_report_2015-16.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

An inquiry by the EHRC into disability and housing found that there is very strong and unmet demand from Disabled people in the social housing sector, where the average waiting time is over two years and, in one case, 20 years. The report concludes that “increasing the availability of social housing needs to be part of the solution to the shortage of accessible homes”:

EHRC (2018) Housing and Disabled people – Britain’s hidden crisis. [online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/housing-and-Disabled-people-britains-hidden-crisis-main-report.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

10 The government green paper on social housing published in August 2018 fails to mention the need for new accessible housing, only mentioning housing for Disabled people within the context of “supported housing.”

GOV.UK. (2018). Social housing green paper: a ‘new deal’ for social housing. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/social-housing-green-paper-a-new-deal-for-social-housing [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

11 The education watchdog Ofsted’s 2017/16 annual report warned that some parents were being asked to educate their Disabled children at home because their schools claimed they could not meet their needs. It stated that the proportion of pupils with a SEN (Special Educational Needs) statement or EHCP (Education Health and Care Plan) attending a state-funded special school, rather than mainstream provision, had risen to 45% from 40% in 2010:

Ofsted (2017) The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2016/17 [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/666871/Ofsted_Annual_Report_2016-17_Accessible.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

12 Findings from a survey of over 900 staff working in schools in England found that cuts affecting SEND pupils are worsening, with half of respondents saying their school had cut support for SEND children this year, compared to 40% last year. Interim findings showed that one in five teachers were aware of illegal exclusions of SEND students within their educational setting. The number of Disabled pupils without any educational placement was also found to have risen to 4,050 in 2017 in England, up from 776 in 2010:

NEU – The National Education Union. (2018). Vulnerable special needs pupils at risk of exclusion due to funding cuts – NEU survey. [online] Available at: https://neu.org.uk/latest/vulnerable-special-needs-pupils-risk-exclusion-due-funding-cuts-–-neu-survey [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Hazell, W. and Ward, H. (2017). ‘1 in 5 teachers aware of illegal SEND exclusions’ | Tes News. [online] Tes.com. Available at: https://www.tes.com/news/1-5-teachers-aware-illegal-send-exclusions [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Richardson, H. (2018). No school for 4,000 special needs pupils. [online] BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43604865 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

13 Harris, J. (2018). The sinister segregation policies excluding children who don’t ‘fit in’. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/16/pupils-special-educational-needs-children-mainstream-schools [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

14 Just under half of all school exclusions affect Disabled pupils. A survey by the charity Ambitious about Autism suggested that as many as 26,000 children and young people on the autism spectrum are being unlawfully excluded each year:

Ambitious about Autism. (n.d.). Why is this campaign important? [online] Available at: https://www.ambitiousaboutautism.org.uk/why-is-this-campaign-important [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

The number of children permanently excluded from state primary, secondary and special schools in England increased by about 1,000 between 2016 and 2017, according to the Department for Education (DfE) figures. The total (7,700) equates to more than 40 permanent exclusions a day during the 2016-17 school year. Pupils with an EHCP or a statement of SEN had the highest fixed-period exclusion rate at 16% in 2016-17 – more than five times higher than pupils without, at 3%.

15 Department for Work and Pensions (2018) Annual Report and Accounts 2017-18. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/721224/dwp-annual-report-and-accounts-2017-2018.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

16 Analysis of ONS statistics show that for every 100 Disabled people moving into work, 114 leave. This compares with an equivalent of 100 non-Disabled people moving into work and just 97 leaving. Analysis of the Labour Force Survey two-quarter longitudinal dataset shows that between October 2016 and March 2017, 123,000 Disabled people moved out of work. This represents 5% of the total number of Disabled people in employment between January-March 2016. During the same period 108,000 Disabled people moved into work; 3% of the total number of Disabled people who were out of work in October-December 2016:

Scope.org.uk. (2018). Government not meeting Disabled workers pledge. [online] Available at: https://www.scope.org.uk/press-releases/government-will-fail-one-million-Disabled-people-work [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Office for National Statistics, Social Survey Division (2018) Labour Force Survey Two-Quarter Longitudinal Dataset, October 2017 – March 2018. [data collection] UK Data Service. SN: 8344, http://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-8344-1 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

17 Disability Employment and Pay Gaps. (2018). [ebook] TUC. Available at: Tuc.org.uk. (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Disabilityemploymentandpaygaps.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

18 Analysis by the TUC of the Labour Force Survey shows that the pay gap between Q3 2016 and Q2 2017 was 15%. This means that on average an EA Disabled worker earns £1.50 less an hour than a non-Disabled counterpart:

Ibid.

In August. the EHRC also published research showing that just 3% of organisations measure their Disability pay gaps:

EHRC (2018) Measuring and reporting on disability and ethnicity pay gaps. [online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/measuring-and-reporting-on-ethnicity-and-disability-pay-gaps.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

19 There are targets to expand services without comparable increases in funding. The report found that:

  • Almost half the respondents had experienced changes to their Access to Work package with “cuts” or “cost cutting” as the most frequently given reason
  • Evidence of rationing strategies
  • Nearly all of those experiencing changes reported negative impacts on their work. In the worst cases people had lost their job, turned down work or reduced their income as a result of the changes
  • Many respondents reported a personal, as well as professional, impact from the changes through stress, poorer health, and loss of self-esteem or confidence:

Inclusion London (2017) Barriers to Work: A survey of Deaf and Disabled people’s experiences of the Access to Work programme in 2015/2016 [online] Available at: https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Barriers-to-Work_InclusionLondon_Oct-2017-1.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

20 GOV.UK. (2018). Increased funding announced for Disabled people with the greatest barriers to work. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/increased-funding-announced-for-Disabled-people-with-the-greatest-barriers-to-work [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

21 Figures published in June 2018 show that since the roll out of PIP, 381,640 Disabled people who previously received DLA, which PIP replaced, have been turned down for the new benefit upon reassessment. (Calculated on: 1,264,000 PIP applications being re-assessed DLA claims and 72% of DLA reassessment claims being successful):

Work and Pensions (2018) Personal Independence Payment: Official Statistics [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/714950/pip-statistics-to-april-2018.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

There is continued widespread concern shared by DDPOs, disability charities, public lawyers, academics, Parliamentarians, the media, and the wider public about the design, quality and operation of assessments for ESA and PIP. Latest figures from January-March 2018 show the rate for assessment decisions over-turned at appeal to be 71% for PIP and 70% for ESA. Where law centres or advice agencies are involved in representing claimants, there is a success rate of nearly 100%:

Ministry of Justice (2018) Tribunals and Gender Recognition Statistics Quarterly, January to March 2018 (Provisional) [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/716008/tribunal-grc-statistics-q4-201718.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

22 Benefits including ESA, Income Support, JSA and UC can be stopped or reduced if claimants are deemed to have breached jobcentre rules, typically by failing to turn up for appointments or applying for enough jobs. Benefits can be stopped for between four weeks and three years. There is mounting evidence that conditionality (the idea that benefit claimants have certain conditions they must meet in order to receive their benefits) and sanctioning are counter-productive in that rather than incentivising Disabled people to find work, they move them further from the labour market.

23 More than two thirds of those affected by the “bedroom tax” are Disabled people. As of May 2017, there were 414 thousand households in Great Britain who had a deduction made from their housing benefit due to the removal of the spare room subsidy. Of these, there were 278 thousand where the claimant or partner was receiving DLA, PIP or ESA. These figures do not account for Disabled people not in receipt of those benefits, so the actual percentage is likely to be much higher:

UK Parliament. (2017). Housing Benefit: Social Rented Housing: Written question – 109181. [online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2017-10-23/109181 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

24 Citizens Advice (2017) Delivering on Universal Credit [online] Available at: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/Global/CitizensAdvice/welfare%20publications/Delivering%20on%20Universal%20Credit%20-%20report.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

25 There have been a number of protests and lobbying campaigns against UC:

Pring, J. (2018). DPAC’s universal credit ‘crime scene’ protest is fresh call for action to Disabled people. [online] Disability News Service. Available at: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/dpacs-universal-credit-crime-scene-protest-is-fresh-call-for-action-to-Disabled-people/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Unitetheunion.org. (2018). STOP Universal Credit. [online] Available at: http://www.unitetheunion.org/campaigning/stop–fix-universal-credit/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

BBC News. (2017). Charity calls for Universal Credit action. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41226942 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

26 A report published in October 2017 by Southwark Council (in partnership with Croydon Council and Peabody), found UC has the potential to be “catastrophic” and lead to a spiral of debt for claimants unless major flaws are addressed. The report found that in the 20 weeks of transferring from the legacy benefit system to UC, the average claimant had £156 of arrears. In Southwark alone, where 12% of council tenants had moved onto UC, rent arrears totalled over £5.3m. One food bank in the London borough reported an increase in the number of referrals by 94%:

The Smith Institute (2017) Safe as houses: the impact of universal credit on tenants and their rent payment behaviour in the London boroughs of Southwark and Croydon, and Peabody. [online] Available at: http://www.southwark.gov.uk/assets/attach/5092/Safe_as_Houses.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

27 A public and media outcry pressured the government into changing the UC helpline to a freephone number. Previously it was 45p a minute for landline and 55p a minute for mobiles, with callers often facing long waiting times to speak to an adviser:

Mason, R. and Walker, P. (2017). Universal credit helpline charges to be scrapped. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/18/universal-credit-helpline-charges-to-be-scrapped [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

28 The report concluded “that the project is not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven.”

National Audit Office (2018) Rolling out Universal Credit. [online] https://www.nao.org.uk/report/rolling-out-universal-credit/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

29 “Sanctioning may have zero or even negative impacts on job-related outcomes”.

Geiger, B. (2017). Benefits conditionality for Disabled people: stylised facts from a review of international evidence and practice. Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, 25(2), pp.107-128.

This is also one of the conclusions drawn from soon to be published qualitative research from the University of Essex and Inclusion London carried out through interviews with Disabled claimants in the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group.

30 The research, due to be published in October entitled “The Activity Trap: Disabled people’s fear of being active”, finds: almost half (47%) are fearful of losing their benefits if they are seen to be more active; almost half (48%) fear being seen as ‘too independent’ for a Disabled person; More than half (55%) said they were likely to be more active if benefits weren’t at risk of being taken away. http://www.activityalliance.org.uk/research.

31 Legislation.gov.uk. (2012). Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. [online] Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/contents/enacted [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

32 EHRC (2017) Being Disabled in Britain: a journey less equal [online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/being-Disabled-in-britain.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

33 The closure of advice and law centres as a consequence of LASPO have resulted in “very significant problems” for Disabled people in enforcing rights under the Equality Act. Catherine Casserley, a barrister with Cloisters who has practised discrimination law since 1996, including for the former Disability Rights Commission, stated Disabled people had “very significant problems” enforcing their rights under the Equality Act. She cited advice centres and law centres closing, while it seemed that even some of the judiciary appeared to have difficulty understanding disability discrimination law:

Pring, J. (2016). ‘Enforcement is key on Equality Act’. [online] Disability News Service. Available at: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/enforcement-is-key-on-equality-act/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

35 The evidence gathering for the post-implementation review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) is ongoing:

GOV.UK. (2018). Post-implementation review of LASPO. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-implementation-review-