Bob

Apr 182019
 

Following reports that Barnet council is to force disabled people into residential care to cut costs, there is a public meeting on Tuesday 21 May starts 6.30 8.30 Greek Cypriot centre, North Finchley, N12.

The aim is to do the following:

1. Raise the profile of this disgusting attack locally in Barnet
2. Raise awareness that it may be happening in other Councils
3. Agree a plan of what action should be taken at the next Adults and Safeguarding committee on Wednesday 5 June

 Posted by at 15:58
Apr 152019
 
Tuesday 21st May 6.15pm Bromley Civic Centre, Stockwell Close, Bromley Kent, BR1 3UH
nearest station is Bromley south station, station is accessible from platform to street level,
buses opposite the train station, 61, 358, 208. 314, 161, 314, 126 all go to the civic centre.
Protest against Tory Bromley Councillors refusal to support Muslim Community in Bromley in wake of Christchurch New Zealand Attacks or issue a statement on behalf of Bromley Council to condemn the attacks in Christchurch New Lealand, Protest by Bromley and Croydon Unite Community and Bromley DPAC Supported by Bromley Labour Group of Councillors, Bromley TUC, .
facebook event link for the protest:
 Posted by at 15:38
Apr 152019
 
Thursday 9th May 6.30pm Croydon Town Hall, to protest against proposed DWP planned PIP assessment centre.
Sub planning meeting takes place at 7.30 pm at Croydon Town Hall.
Town Hall, St Katherine Street, Croydon, CRO 1NX
nearest train station East Croydon Station, accessible from platform to street level.
Buses 119, go from bromley
from merton: tramlink from wimbledon,
buses:93 and 154 go to croydon town hall.
from wandsworth:270,264, 407
from camberwell: 468
facebook event link for protest: https://www.facebook.com/events/666393323815289/
media link to the reason behind the protest:
 Posted by at 15:35
Apr 122019
 

In an additional, extra article from Disability News Service (DNS) this week, Avon and Somerset Police force are found wanting in failing to investigate abuse of disabled people in a care home, and bring those who perpetrated that abuse to justice.

Just a reminder on Avon and Somerset Police’s previous record – before the latest DNS article.

Avon and Somerset police is the same force that repeatedly failed to halt a regime of abuse at the Winterbourne View private hospital for adults with learning difficulties, before it was eventually exposed by a Panorama documentary in May 2011.

The force was also found to have repeatedly failed disabled refugee Bijan Ebrahimi, who was murdered in 2013 after years of racist harassment and abuse, and also failed disabled asylum-seeker Kamil Ahmad, who was brutally murdered by a racist neighbour three years ago.

(Text above, and latest story below provided by DNS)

Whistle-blower withdraws offer to help police reopen probe into autistic abuse scandal

A whistle-blower who has vital evidence of serious abuse at a care home for autistic adults has retracted her offer to talk to police about what she witnessed, which could have led to them reopening their failed investigation.

Disability News Service (DNS) found out this week that Avon and Somerset police had failed to interview her, even though her whistleblowing played a key part in helping to expose the abuse scandal at Mendip House, which was run by the National Autistic Society (NAS).

The whistle-blower, Hannah*, had talked in depth to DNS this week about what she witnessed at Mendip House in Brent Knoll, Somerset, and revealed that she had never been interviewed by Avon and Somerset police.

Police have failed to bring any charges against those responsible for the abusive regime.

And they confirmed this week that Hannah was never interviewed.

A police spokesperson said: “We were never made aware of the person you have named as your source, which is why she was not interviewed as part of our investigation.”

Hannah had made it clear earlier this week that she wanted to give a statement to police, in the hope that the force would reopen its investigation, and secure justice through the courts for the autistic people abused at Mendip House.

But Hannah has now appalled campaigners by retracting her offer to give a police statement, because she says she fears that speaking out could put her own job in the care industry at risk.

DNS understands that the police cannot compel Hannah to provide a statement about what she saw at Mendip House.

She had left her contact details with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in the spring of 2016 when she helped expose the abusive regime at Mendip House, where she worked for about eight months in 2015 and 2016.

CQC passed her evidence to Somerset County Council in a safeguarding referral, but it is still not clear why no effort was made by the council or the police to interview her, and which of the two bodies was to blame for that failure.

Avon and Somerset police were this week ready to interview Hannah and take a statement about what she witnessed at Mendip House, after being approached by DNS.

But yesterday, after DNS asked her permission to pass her phone number to the police press office, she sent a text message saying that she had “decided due to the nature of my job now I would rather not give evidence or have my details in the paper but wish you all the best”.

She has not responded to further messages by phone or email.

Hannah spoke to a manager and to CQC in April 2016.

The home was closed by NAS several months later, partly as a result of her speaking to CQC.

But no-one was ever arrested or charged over the abuse, although five members of staff were sacked by the charity.

Avon and Somerset police has previously insisted that there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the former care workers responsible for the alleged abuse at the NAS home.

It has admitted taking statements from just 12 members of staff, but this appears to have been partly linked to threats made to fellow staff members, leaving them unwilling to co-operate with the police, although this was not mentioned by Hannah as a reason for now refusing to be interviewed.

The home had 26 members of staff as well as other zero hours workers, while scores of people were employed at six other homes on the Somerset Court campus, all run by NAS.

Avon and Somerset police insisted to DNS last month that “all those relevant to the offences in question were spoken to and those who were willing to talk to the police who had worked with the suspects”.

It also said last month that to interview “all former and current staff would’ve been a disproportionate use of police resources”.

It initially claimed its investigation took nine months, but later admitted it had lasted only five months.

CQC has confirmed that Hannah phoned its contact centre on 4 April 2016 and provided evidence, asking to remain anonymous, although she left her contact details. CQC made a “safeguarding referral” to Somerset County Council based on her information.

An anonymous whistle-blower, who CQC believes was Hannah, called the watchdog again on 9 May 2016 and provided further information, which led to a second safeguarding alert to the council.

A CQC spokesperson told DNS yesterday (Thursday): “If the local authority wished to have the contact details of the whistle-blower, CQC would have shared that information.

Safeguarding authorities will involve the police when necessary and if the police asked us for that information, we would pass it on in the same way as to local authorities.”

But no attempt was made by the police or the council to secure Hannah’s contact details so they could interview her.

Despite CQC’s willingness to pass on her contact details, the council claims the information was provided “anonymously” and so it was not able to make “direct contact” with Hannah, while Avon and Somerset police said it was “never made aware of the person you have named as your source”.

The council and police failed to contact Hannah even though she appears to be one of the whistle-blowers referred to in the safeguarding adults review (SAR) report [PDF] published in January 2018 by the Somerset Safeguarding Adults Board, which followed an inquiry set up by the county council into the allegations.

The SAR report says: “The closure of Mendip House may be traced to May 2016 when incidents were revealed to Somerset’s Safeguarding personnel by NAS whistle blowers, one of which was reported via the Care Quality Commission.”

Some of Hannah’s evidence passed to DNS earlier this week appeared to be even more serious than the details of abuse included in the SAR report.

She appears to have evidence of serious and criminal ill-treatment and neglect under the Mental Health Act or Mental Capacity Act.

She told DNS how she saw:

  • A heavily-built male staff member riding a male resident like a horse in order to “humiliate” him
  • A male staff member shouting abuse at a male resident after he left a toilet door open
  • A male staff member forcing a male resident to eat raw onion [the SAR report says a resident was punished for refusing to eat an onion]
  • A female staff member refusing to give a male resident drinks in case he wet himself
  • The same resident often having to lie in a wet bed for more than half an hour because staff refused to change him
  • Male staff members locking a female resident in her car on several occasions, and walking back to Mendip House – where they could not see her – and only checking on her at intervals
  • A male and female staff member engaged in overt sexual activity [described by Hannah as “dry-humping”] while a male resident was sitting at a table in the same room
  • A female staff member in charge of a shift refusing to call an ambulance after a male resident repeatedly banged his head against the wall after being shouted at
  • Male members of staff throwing food at a male resident on several occasions
  • Staff using residents’ money to buy food for staff from a takeaway in nearby Weston-super-Mare, using an NAS vehicle. In contrast to what was said in the SAR report, residents did not accompany staff on these trips, according to Hannah

Hannah originally said she was “horrified” that no-one had been arrested over the abuse.

She said: “I am still angry about it. It was massively covered up from the top down.”

Emma Dalmayne, chief executive of the autistic-led organisation Autistic Inclusive Meets, who organised a protest about the scandal outside NAS headquarters in London last month, said: “It is extremely disappointing that a person who works in the care sector has decided to withdraw any support for a new investigation.

It is a massive setback. If you see abuse, any decent person would want justice.

Why wouldn’t this person want to bring these people to justice? Is her job more important?”

Dalmayne had previously said that the police failure to interview Hannah showed “another layer of the complete failure of all services involved to protect the safety and rights of highly vulnerable autistic people has been revealed.

This is appalling. Safeguarding all but disregarded and a basic common decency and respect for human life completely absent.

The message of all involved, the residents, their families… to us the autistic community is clear. They and we do not matter.”

A relative of one of the residents – before Hannah withdrew her co-operation – told DNS that the abuse seemed to have been “swept under the carpet”.

She said: “I just don’t know why the police didn’t investigate more fully. Why do they seem to have been so lacklustre?

From the sounds of it, they didn’t do enough. They could have interviewed more [people who worked at Mendip House].

I am just so bewildered, so confused. It just seems like the police gave up too soon. I have no idea why.”

Mendip House was one of seven homes run by NAS, as part of the Somerset Court campus.

The other six homes are still open, and Hannah had previously said she believed there needed to be a new inquiry into all the Somerset Court homes, and frequent and regular inspections.

She said: “I would be in there every week for weeks. I would be breathing down their necks ensuring the same thing didn’t happen.”

She also said she believed the abusive regime at Mendip House dated back much further than the two-year period between 2014 and 2016 covered in the SAR report.

She said: “The staff who had been there years told me that they reported and reported and reported and nothing had been done.”

A CQC spokesperson said: “Straight after the last Mendip House inspection we did do a fully comprehensive inspection of all Somerset Court homes. 

However, if anyone did have information of concern, we would encourage them to share this with us so we can investigate.”

A Somerset County Council spokesperson has been unable to explain why the information it received from CQC about Hannah’s evidence did not lead to her being interviewed by police.

But she said in a statement: “Somerset County Council held meetings with the police, NAS and CQC where information received from anonymous whistle-blowers was passed on to the police as part of their investigation.

As mentioned previously, all whistle-blower information we received was given to us anonymously and it’s not our policy to ask for contact details in these cases to protect the identity of whistle-blowers.

Therefore, we wouldn’t have been able to individually identify [Hannah].

We received information from a number of anonymous whistle-blowers, which were all consistent with the points raised by [Hannah] and subsequently part of the investigation.

If [Hannah] feels her anonymous evidence wasn’t taken into account in 2016, she is welcome to get in touch with Somerset County Council or the police to formally put her concerns on record.”

It is currently unclear why no effort was made to ask Hannah to give a statement to police in 2016 and 2017.

CQC decided last month not to prosecute NAS, and instead fined it just £4,000 for financial abuse by staff, despite the regime of “taunting, mistreatment and humiliation of residents”.

An NAS spokesperson said: “We cooperated fully with the lengthy police investigation. We asked to be kept updated with developments and were informed when they eventually closed the investigation.

However, from what we understand, the police would not be able to share any details about who they interviewed with us or any other agency or organisation that wasn’t directly involved in the investigation.

And they did not share the details of whether this person was interviewed or not.”

He added: “We have reported and investigated all allegations that have been raised with us.

In line with our responsibilities, we will of course fully investigate any other concerns that are raised with us. Or people can of course go straight to the CQC with any concerns.”

*Not her real name

12 April 2019

 Posted by at 22:35
Apr 112019
 

 

DWP ‘hypocrite’ ministers refuse to be held to same safety standards as social media

Ministers have been branded “hypocrites” for rejecting the idea that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should be held responsible for benefit-related deaths, despite their government calling for social media managers to be held criminally responsible for safeguarding failures.

Home secretary Sajid Javid said this week that the government was acting to hold the social media industry accountable for its failures because “we know, in our hearts, we know that protecting the vulnerable is our shared responsibility”.

But evidence has also mounted over recent years of links between the failings of DWP ministers and senior civil servants and the deaths of disabled people, particularly in relation to the flawed work capability assessment (WCA) process.

The deaths of disabled people such as Paul Donnachie, Mark Wood, David Barr, Stephen Carré, Lawrence BondDavid Clapson, Susan Roberts, Alan McArdle and Jodey Whiting – and many others – have all been linked to DWP safeguarding failings.

This has led to the launch of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which says DWP ministers and civil servants should be held to account through a police investigation for their failure to ensure the safety of these and other benefit claimants.

In a speech to launch the new white paper on online harms, Javid said this week that some tech companies had “long got away with the claim that they cannot possibly be expected to take any more responsibility for the safety of their customers”.

He added: “If we saw a child being abused or threatened, I’m sure all of us in this room would step in and do something.

And we’d do something because we know, in our hearts, we know that protecting the vulnerable is our shared responsibility.

It’s not controversial, it’s not authoritarian. It’s just what you do in a civilized society… So if companies fail to fulfil their safeguarding obligations they will face serious consequences.”

This week’s white paper on online social harms – which is now out for a three-month public consultation – shows the government wants to hold social media companies to account for their safeguarding failings.

One of the key elements of the white paper is that the government is exploring new laws that would hold individual senior managers “personally accountable” in the event of a major breach of a new statutory duty of care, which could extend to “criminal liability”.

Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Social media companies must act against online disablist abuse but in pushing responsibility onto those companies, the government is conveniently avoiding its own role in deliberately enflaming hostile attitudes towards disabled people in order to justify welfare ‘reform’.

The United Nations recommended in 2016 that the government undertake a widespread publicity programme to improve attitudes towards benefit claimants but this recommendation was rejected.

If the government really cared about stopping disablism the first place to start would be the DWP.

It is also entirely hypocritical to introduce new criminal laws holding companies to account for safeguarding breaches when government ministers and civil servants are still able to evade justice for the deaths of benefit claimants and ignore the blood on their own hands.”

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, welcomed the white paper’s safeguarding proposal but said the refusal to introduce similar measures to cover DWP was “hypocrisy”.

She said: “Certainly we feel that safeguarding for people with mental health problems is extremely important, and for people who have disabilities too, and we fail to see why the government would consider safeguarding for one group of people important but not for another.

It’s not good enough just to safeguard a person up to a certain age and then throw them to the wolves.

MHRN feels very, very strongly that those government ministers and senior civil servants who have engineered a hostile environment for people with mental health problems, some of whom have taken their own lives, should face some kind of justice.”

She said that the outsourcing companies who carry out disability benefit assessments on behalf of DWP – Maximus, Atos and Capita – should also be held to account.

She said: “We will see all of them held to account, even if it takes the next 10 or 20 years. We will not walk away and forget this has happened.”

McKenna pointed out that many people with mental health problems have experienced abuse as children and are now being “subjected to the cruelty of the benefit system and sanctions”.

She added: “It seems to be that we are protecting children until they reach a certain age, at which point we change from seeking to protect them to almost despising them.”

Ian Jones, from the WOWcampaign, said: “It is now up to Justin Tomlinson and Amber Rudd to explain to disabled people how they are going to introduce a requirement for the DWP to demonstrate a duty of care to disabled people and all claimants of universal credit and other benefits.

DWP staff and ministers whose conduct may have caused harm to claimants of universal credit and other benefits should be held to the same standards as social media bosses when ignorance and failure to follow procedure leads to harm.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, welcomed the white paper announcement but said it would be “rank hypocrisy” if the government was not going to hold DWP to the same standards.

He said: “Ministers and civil servants should face the same exacting standards as Sajid Javid proposes.”

DWP has continually insisted that it is already “committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants”, has “robust safeguarding in place to protect and support vulnerable people” and that “where any failings on specific cases have been identified, we have addressed these to ensure they are not repeated”.

Asked this week if similar laws to those proposed for social media companies should be introduced to cover the actions of civil servants and ministers running DWP, a DWP spokesperson refused to comment.

And asked if there should be a criminal investigation into the safeguarding failings of DWP ministers and civil servants, she again refused to comment.

To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

11 April 2019

 

 

Council accused of ‘settling scores’ after cutting funding from DPO that criticised it

A council has been accused of being “vindictive” and trying to “silence” a disabled people’s organisation (DPO) by withdrawing funding for its advice service, just months after the DPO published a critical report about social care provision in the borough.

Labour-run Merton council, in south-west London, has been accused of discriminating against disabled people by withdrawing funding from the only advice service in the borough that provides welfare rights experts who will visit disabled people in their own homes.

The council’s equality impact assessment of the decision to withdraw funding from Merton Centre for Independent Living (MCIL)* concluded that it provided “high quality casework support” and was “serving a small number of vulnerable disabled people very well”.

It also concluded that the loss of funding would mean “potentially a negative impact identified for deaf and disabled residents”.

But the council decided not to offer funding of £75,000 a year to replace an existing £80,000-a-year grant, arguing that MCIL’s high-intensity service was helping too few people.

MCIL will continue to provide advice and advocacy services in welfare rights and social care, and visit service-users at home, but it has had to close its housing advice service.

The loss of the funding may also impact other services, including the advice and support it provides to victims of disability hate crime.

Last October, MCIL published a 96-page report into the flaws and failings of Merton council’s adult social care provision.

That report concluded that a growing number of disabled people were resorting to legal action against the council to secure the support they needed, and warned that Merton council appeared to be carrying out reassessments and reviews of people’s care packages with the aim of cutting their support.

Roy Benjamin, MCIL’s chair, said he believed the council was now being “vindictive” in the wake of the social care report.

He said: “It is very much about settling scores. I feel angry… because we are a strong voice and it’s an attempt to silence us, and clearly any decision to cut our resources is going to impact on our ability to meet the needs [of disabled people in the borough].”

He added: “We already were not in a position to meet all the need that was identified. This is only going to exacerbate [that].”

Last year, MCIL supported 332 individual Deaf and disabled people with advice and casework, and provided information, signposting and guidance in another 170 cases, leading to a contribution of nearly £700,000 to the local economy in 2017-18.

Benjamin said it was an “irrational decision” and “discrimination” to cut the funding, because of its impact on disabled people who find it difficult to access mainstream services.

MCIL provides a high-intensity advice service, often following disability benefits cases right through to the appeal stage.

Benjamin said: “We are the only pan-disability organisation in the borough. We are the only organisation that offers any sort of domiciliary service for those people who can’t get to [Citizen’s Advice] or other advice providers.”

MCIL was originally one of six partners that put together a joint bid for funding.

When that bid was unsuccessful, the council asked the six individual organisations to put in individual bids for funding.

MCIL said it was the only one of the six that was unsuccessful in its bid for funding.

The council now provides no funding at all to MCIL.

A Merton council spokesperson refused to answer a series of questions about whether it was being “vindictive” and “settling scores”, if it was discriminating against disabled people, and why it ignored the conclusions of its equality impact assessment.

But Edith Macauley, the cabinet member for community safety, engagement and equalities, said in a statement: “Merton is one of only a few London boroughs not to have cut overall funding for the voluntary sector and we are spending around £4million between 2019 and 2022.   

All bids for funding of the information and advice element of the Strategic Partner Programme 2019-22 were scored against the funding criteria, but not every organisation’s bid was successful.

Merton Centre for Independent Living’s two bids, the first of which was as part of a consortium and the second bid in a round which was only open to unsuccessful bidders from the first round, scored less highly than the other bids which were received. 

Merton CIL challenged their score, which was upheld after their bid was reviewed by a council officer who was unconnected to it.     

The programme has commissioned a wide range of high quality and accessible support through this funding, including a central information and advice offer, complemented by a range of services, including specialist legal support and services with proven outreach to communities with some of the most challenging needs.

We have been actively working with Merton CIL and our new providers to ensure that anyone who needs advice and support has access to it.”

*To donate money to Merton CIL, visit this page

11 April 2019

 

 

Justice for Jodey Whiting: Mum brands DWP’s petition response ‘a joke’

The furious mother of a disabled woman who took her own life after repeated safeguarding failings by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has branded DWP’s response to a parliamentary petition set up in her daughter’s name “a joke”.

Joy Dove said this week that DWP’s safeguarding failures had killed her daughter.

She spoke out after DWP responded to the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which was set up in her daughter’s name.

DWP said in its response that it would not hold an independent inquiry into the deaths of disabled people linked to the failings of ministers and civil servants, as demanded by the petition.

More than 26,000 people have now signed the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which this week won further support, from the grassroots disabled women’s organisation WinVisible and film director Ken Loach.

The petition calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants or government ministers to be passed to the police.

It also calls for MPs to recognise that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.

Because the petition passed 10,000 signatures, the government was forced to respond.

But its response, published this week, ignored key parts of the petition’s demands.

DWP said it had “no plans” to hold an independent inquiry, and that the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) – who found DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to Whiting’s suicide in February 2017 – “did not find any evidence of misconduct by Civil Servants or Ministers”.

DWP apologised for its failings in her case and said: “Unfortunately, in this instance the expected standard of customer service was not achieved.”

But the response ignored the petition’s reference to the many other deaths that have been closely linked to the actions of ministers and civil servants.

DWP claimed that the safeguarding of claimants was already a priority, that it was “committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants” and that its staff were “trained to identify signs of vulnerability which may include offering extra help with people’s benefits should they need it”.

But only last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how DWP had admitted destroying a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.

DWP also failed in its response to comment on the petition’s call for MPs to accept that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose.

This week, DNS reports (see separate story) how an employment tribunal found DWP managers had “victimised” a disabled member of staff after she claimed that she had faced workplace discrimination.

And in February, Civil Service figures revealed that the proportion of DWP staff who said they had been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months had risen by about 50 per cent in just four years.

Joy Dove, Jodey Whiting’s mother, said the DWP response to the petition was “a joke”, and that her message to DWP was: “You have put everything in your response to the petition that you did not do to safeguard Jodey.

You killed my daughter by not safeguarding her.”

She added: “They should have practised what they are trying to preach now. They are responsible for Jodey’s death.”

She said she was appalled that the DWP response suggested that the £10,000 ICE ordered DWP to pay the family as a “consolatory payment” was “compensation” for her daughter’s death.

Dove said that £9,000 was given to Jodey’s nine children, while the other £1,000 was used to pay off some of the debts she had built up in paying for her daughter’s funeral.

She said: “It’s not about money. I will carry on. They can’t say it’s settled. I signed nothing. I want justice.”

She is hoping to take legal action against DWP, and she told DNS she wanted to see an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions, and then criminal prosecutions.

Meanwhile, Loach, whose film I, Daniel Blake has become a cultural rallying point for many disabled activists appalled at the deaths and years of harm caused to benefit claimants by government social security reforms, spoke this week to Dove to express his support for her battle for justice.

That battle is shared by seven other families who have lost relatives because of the failings of DWP ministers and senior civil servants and have backed the petition.

Dove said Loach had spoken to her for nearly an hour and was “lovely”.

He later sent a letter to her, saying that he and his colleagues were “aware of the countless other stories like yours where DWP has shown brutality that has led directly to innocent people suffering, and even death, as with Jodey”.

WinVisible, which supports and campaigns for disabled women, this week added its backing for the petition.

Claire Glasman, from WinVisible, said her organisation was supporting the petition because the way Whiting had had her benefits “cut off” and had not been believed about her illness was “horrific”.

She said: “This callousness is now standard. Every day we work with women with visible and invisible disabilities, distressed and suicidal because they are forced to go through the brutal benefit test system. 

We help them to win benefits on paper evidence, using the info on WinVisible’s blog. 

We can’t bear it that disabled mothers who deserve benefits and support services, are penalised as fit for work by reason of caring for children. 

In benefit cuts, disabled single mother families are doubly hit by the hostility against single mothers and against disabled people, losing up to £11,000 a year.” 

WinVisible is adding its support for the petition to that of four other grassroots groups: Black TriangleDisabled People Against CutsMental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.

To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

11 April 2019

 

 

Tomlinson becomes latest ‘shoddy, shameless’ disability minister

Disabled activists have responded with resignation after the government appointed another “shoddy, shameless” minister for disabled people.

The new minister, Justin Tomlinson, previously held the post between May 2015 and July 2016, before he was sacked in a government reshuffle.

Now he has been appointed again, this time to replace Brexit casualty Sarah Newton, and becomes the eighth minister for disabled people – or the seventh if you only count him once – since 2010.

There had been a gap of more than three weeks – filled with increasing anger at the prime minister’s failure to appoint a replacement for Newton – before Tomlinson’s name was finally revealed.

Despite repeated requests from Disability News Service (DNS), the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has failed to produce a press release welcoming his appointment.

Disabled activists this week pointed to Tomlinson being repeatedly publicly shamed for his ministerial performance and activities as an MP.

In October 2016, he had to apologise to MPs and was suspended from the Commons for two days after leaking a confidential Commons report to payday lender Wonga.

Last November, having been restored to DWP as the family support, housing and child maintenance minister, he suggested to a Commons committee that families hit by his government’s benefit cap could cope by taking in a lodger or “renegotiating” their rent.

And only last week, Tomlinson blocked DNS on Twitter, following a report on how he had apparently lied to the Commons work and pensions committee about the impact of the benefits freeze on disabled people.

When asked this week why he had taken that action, he said DNS was “free to be critical and challenging, but using phrases like ‘lying’ goes too far”, although he did remove the block.

But he has yet to explain why he told the committee that “disability benefits were exempt from the benefits freeze”, when in fact there is no exemption for the main component of employment and support allowance (ESA) or the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group.

Last week he was also forced to apologise to MPs for making a series of “inadvertent errors” in a debate about the annual uprating of benefits.

Tomlinson’s record as minister for disabled people in 2015 and 2016 is filled with a string of episodes that cast doubt on his credibility.

The former nightclub manager and owner of a marketing company had been in charge of the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident scheme for more than a year when DNS revealed in June 2016 that only about 40 mainstream private sector employers had signed up to the flagship programme in the three years since its launch.

The same month, he was urged to resign after he threatened a traumatised child abuse survivor – who was waiting to give evidence about the abuse in court – that his benefits would be stopped if he failed to co-operate with an Atos benefit reassessment.

Also in June 2016, he admitted to complete ignorance about the model that lies at the heart of his government’s programme of disability benefit reforms, the biopsychosocial model of disability.

Later that year, in a Commons debate after his sacking, he admitted that he had forgotten that DWP had issued a press release in his name that set a target to halve the disability employment gap by 2020.

And in July 2015, soon after his appointment as minister for disabled people, he risked ridicule after announcing that Swansea had become the country’s first “Disability Confident City”, but was then unable to explain why it had been chosen.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network, said Tomlinson had previously been “thoroughly dismissive” of disabled people and was “an apologist for the worst of the Tory policies”.

She said: “We have no expectation that Justin Tomlinson has in any way changed. We expect more of the same from him.”

She added: “Disabled people no longer bother to meet with Tory disability ministers because they don’t have our interests at heart.

His integrity is highly questionable. We have no reason to believe that he will have changed his ways. We expect more of the same from him.”

Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “Eight ministers for disabled people in nine years. Frankly, by now disabled people care almost as little who their minister is, as the minister couldn’t care less about disabled people. 

None of these shoddy, shameless ministers has ever lifted a finger to improve the lives of disabled people. And under this government, none of them are likely to.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said Tomlinson was “clearly too incompetent” to serve as a minister.

And Ian Jones, from the WOWcampaign, said that one of Tomlinson’s excuses in 2016 for defending huge cuts to disabled people’s support had been that resources would instead be targeted at those who needed it most.

He said: “This time he must do better and I am praying that he has had an empathy implant.”

11 April 2019

 

 

DWP ‘victimised’ disabled staff member who claimed discrimination, tribunal finds

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) managers “victimised” a disabled member of staff after she claimed that she had faced workplace discrimination, an employment tribunal has ruled.

It is just the latest case to raise concerns that DWP is institutionally disablist, both in its treatment of disabled benefit claimants and of its own staff.

Last November, DWP admitted failing to keep track of how many complaints of disability discrimination were made by its own staff, while in February Civil Service figures revealed that the proportion of DWP staff who said they had been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months had risen by about 50 per cent in just four years.

The new tribunal decision adds further weight to the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which calls on MPs to recognise that DWP is “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose”. 

The victimisation happened after the woman, referred to as JL, had submitted a claim internally that DWP had breached the Equality Act by failing to make a reasonable adjustment by providing her with access to a psychologist at work, following job-related anxiety and stress.

She subsequently used freedom of information laws to obtain a statement that had been prepared by two of her managers – and was not intended to be shared with her – who had discussed her case.

In the statement, the managers said they believed her actions were “vexations [vexatious]”, because of an earlier successful claim she had made under the Civil Service “injury benefit” system two years earlier, which again had been linked to DWP’s failure to meet its duties to her under the Equality Act.

Her managers also claimed that they appeared to be victims of “a widening [trade union] strategy” that saw “absence recorded as work-related stress” and eventually leading to the member of staff “seeking gardening leave” until the process was resolved.

But one of the managers told the tribunal that he accepted JL “had done nothing wrong and there was no basis for labelling her behaviour as vexatious”.

Employment judge Alexander Green said the managers’ statement was “inaccurate and disparaging” and the claim of vexatious behaviour was “a very serious allegation without any evidential basis”.

Judge Green said JL was instead “exercising her right to submit an injury benefit claim and it should also not be forgotten that she had succeeded with a previous claim in 2015 where she proved loss based on a work-related stress claim” and so was not “simply acting to annoy” DWP.

The judge also pointed out that JL had been “justifiably upset” because DWP had lost some of the sensitive medical documents she had submitted as part of her claim.

And he said there was “absolutely no basis” for the suggestion that her claim was part of a wider trade union strategy to encourage “un-meritorious claims”.

Judge Green said the management statement “misrepresents” JL, who was “being targeted for asserting her rights”, and he concluded that DWP had victimised JL under the Equality Act.

JL, who has long-standing depression and anxiety, has been working at a DWP pensions centre for 16 years, and had been a representative of the PCS union for more than 13 years, until she stood down in 2017.

The tribunal heard JL had not taken any further sick leave since returning to work in January 2018 and was now branch secretary of the PCS union.

The tribunal rejected her claims of disability discrimination and a failure to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act because she was not able to prove that she was a disabled person under the act by showing her mental health condition had had a substantial impact on her day-to-day activities.

But Judge Green said JL was clearly “very upset by the way she was treated”, and he added: “The management statement caused her great offence and she felt victimised and violated by [DWP’s] behaviour.

When she gave her evidence about how she felt, she frequently broke down in tears… Her upset was genuine, heartfelt and palpable.”

JL was awarded £3,000 in damages for injury to feelings, and a further £212.60 in interest.

A DWP spokesperson said this week: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring all colleagues, including those with disabilities or health conditions, get the support they need to thrive.

As a Disability Confident employer we demonstrate best practice in recruiting, retaining and developing disabled staff – including making workplace adjustments and providing a dedicated team to deliver this.

We have in place robust processes for colleagues to follow in relation to diversity and inclusion and, while the number of staff reporting discrimination is very small, we treat any case extremely seriously.”

To sign the Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

11 April 2019

 

 

Disabled activists’ bid to find northern DPOs could ‘combat London bias’

A new disabled people’s organisation (DPO) is hoping to bring together DPOs from across the north of England to provide a strong, collective, regional voice on issues affecting disabled people.

Leeds Disabled People’s Organisation (LDPO) was formed in January last year and has no funding, but it wants to hear from other DPOs across the region*.

It is hoping to map the location of all the DPOs across the north of England so they can work together and provide a powerful new voice, potentially setting up a new regional coalition.

LDPO has already been in contact with the well-established Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and hopes eventually to bring northern DPOs together for a “summit” meeting.

Mostafa Attia, LDPO chair, said: “We would like to do a northern summit, with all the different DPOs coming together, sharing and exchanging sources and see how they can work together rather than each of them working in a separate, isolated environment.”

Steve Graby, a founder member of LDPO and also a member of GMCDP’s executive board, but not speaking on their behalf, said a key problem was the lack of a coordinated list or database of active DPOs.

He said: “I hear about other DPOs mostly by word of mouth, and often even politicised disabled people living in an area, such as Manchester, where there is a DPO that is long-established and ‘well-known’ within the [disabled people’s movement] community, aren’t aware of it.”

Graby said part of the reason for this was that many DPOs had “failed to adapt to changing times and patterns of disablement, so that they don’t seem relevant to a lot of younger disabled people now, and are not necessarily addressing the most pressing problems that many disabled people are facing”.

One of the explanations for that, he said, was that many DPOs had become service-providers that depend on funding with “strings attached” or have restrictions such as only being open to certain age groups.

They have often “lost the roles of campaigning and consciousness-raising organisations” and “can often be de facto led by paid staff rather than their membership”, he said.

Even the national Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance of DPOs, which he supports, appears to be “very London/South of England centric”.

Graby said he believed there needed to be a mapping of where DPOs are active and where they are not, with more regional coordination to “move away from the London bias”.

He said: “I think this is especially needed because so much activist energy has been focused on the actions of central government and therefore targeting parliament, Whitehall, the DWP headquarters etc, and while of course this is important and necessary, disabled people (particularly those with personal assistance/independent living support needs) are now increasingly also being attacked by cuts made by local government, so there is a real need for local/regional as well as national organisation and activism.”

And he said there needed to be an effort to find “new ways of organising as disabled people without relying on the funding which so many DPOs have been reliant on and which increasingly is being lost.

It is unacceptable to me that loss of funding seems to instantly mean the complete annihilation of a DPO regardless of the will of its members – there need to be ways that DPOs can function on some level as organisations of active ‘doers’ rather than a passive membership and things only being done by paid staff.”

Leeds DPO was formed by a collection of people, most of them disabled, who were either studying at the University of Leeds – known for its Centre for Disability Studies – or were working locally in the disability field.

Its mission is to bring together disabled people in Leeds and combat social isolation and exclusion.

Among its activities, it organises social events, has started a writers’ group and is setting up a disabled women’s group.

*If you are a DPO working in the north of England, you can contact Leeds DPO by email at leedsdpo@gmail.com, through Twitter (@Leeds_DPO), through its website or on Facebook

11 April 2019

 

 

Autistic authors’ guide maps out route to quality care

A new guide – written solely by autistic people – aims to show care providers, commissioners and inspectors how to provide “quality care” for other autistic people.

An Independent Guide to Quality Care for Autistic People has been written by members of the National Autistic Taskforce (NAT) and has a “heavy emphasis” on developing choice and control for service-users.

The guide says: “The more autonomy a person has, the less support services need to rely on external authorities such as good practice guides, instead looking to the person themselves as the primary source of information, instruction and guidance.”

Among its recommendations is that care providers should make the protection of service-users’ autonomy “a core priority” and ensure they have choice and control over “major life decisions and not just everyday choices”.

The guide adds: “Respect the rights of all people to privacy, dignity and the maximum possible control over their own lives.”

It also says there should be respect for the right of autistic service-users to make “unwise decisions”, while their human rights should be prioritised over any “perceived risks to organisational or personal reputations”.

The guide, which has been endorsed by organisations including the autistic-led Autistic UK and the non-user-led charity the National Autistic Society, warns that even “well-meaning approaches to care may be negative experiences for some autistic people when these do not respect an autistic perspective”.

This could include being subjected to “treatments” that seek to “normalise” the service-user or that try to include them in social activities they do not want to participate in.

The guide says service-providers should carry out regular “sensory reviews” of the places where autistic service-users spend time, ensure “prompt and effective” access to advocacy, and embed “rights-based thinking” in day-to-day practice.

And it says that any “physical intervention, pharmaceutical control of behaviour or any other forms of restraint” should be viewed as service “failures”.

The guide says: “A good service for autistic people is one where staff try to put themselves in an autistic person’s shoes, get to know each person as an individual, and maintain a relationship with the person based on trust and respect.”

And it adds: “A good service for autistic people recognises autistic identity and does not assume that what is ‘normal’ or ‘good’ for non-autistic people is necessarily right for an autistic person.”

The taskforce hopes its new guide will be part of a growing move beyond the idea of co-production of services and “towards autistic leadership”.

Its main author was trainer and consultant Yo Dunn, a member of the NAT executive.

NAT was launched in December 2017 and has received two years’ funding of £100,000 from the Shirley Foundation, with its focus “to help empower autistic adults, including those with less autonomy and higher support needs, to have a stronger voice in the decisions and direction of their own lives”.

11 April 2019

 

 

Airline forced to apologise after charging woman for carer’s seat reservation

An airline has been forced to apologise to a disabled woman after it charged her extra to reserve a seat next to her for her carer, and then refused to refund the charge.

Helen Jenkins had informed Flybe when she was booking her return flights from Birmingham to the Isle of Man online last week that she would require assistance.

She and her husband are planning to celebrate her birthday in September with a four-day visit to the island – which they have been told has an excellent, accessible public transport system – before she has a major operation that is likely to rule out flying for another six months.

Because of a mobility impairment, she is unable to put her luggage in the overhead locker, fasten her seatbelt, or leave her seat to use the toilet without her husband’s assistance.

But despite ticking the box for assistance, and being told by the booking system that she could choose her own seat without charge, she was charged an extra £6 each way for her husband’s tickets.

And when she called the company to complain, she was told that Flybe was a “no-refunds airline”.

She said she had been “shocked” when she printed out the booking confirmation to find that she had been charged extra to ensure her husband could sit next to her.

She said: “I was pretty astonished considering the service I have received from every other airline, which has always been first class.”

She has booked two return flights a year to various destinations for the last 10 years and has never previously had to pay to reserve her husband’s seat next to her.

Jenkins said Flybe’s efforts had been “absolutely abysmal”.

She told Disability News Service (DNS): “I said, ‘You’re discriminating against me because I am disabled. I need help and you have said I need to pay extra.’”

According to European regulations, airlines must make “all reasonable efforts” to give a person accompanying a disabled person a seat next to that passenger.

In a document published last October, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority said it was “not acceptable for consumers that need to sit with a companion so they can be provided with essential support and assistance to either feel they need to pay extra to guarantee a seat next to a companion or to need to pay extra to ensure they are seated with a companion”.

The document said airlines should make it clear before booking – and again at all times when passengers are offered the option to pay for seats – that no such charges will be imposed.

After DNS contacted the airline to raise concerns about how she had been treated, Flybe apologised and said it would refund the extra charge.

It also said it would ensure that all new staff were “fully aware” of its policy that carers should be assigned a seat next to the passenger they are accompanying at no extra charge.

But Flybe had failed by noon today (Thursday) to explain why its online booking system originally added the charge, when Jenkins had made it clear during the process that she would need wheelchair assistance. 

11 April 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 15:01
Apr 042019
 

 

DWP admits destroying report on safety failings in jobcentres

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) destroyed a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.

The report into safeguarding failures in south London jobcentres was written by three disabled people recruited under its Community Partners initiative, which was set up to build bridges between jobcentres and the local community.

The trio had written the short report just a couple of weeks after taking up their posts, after becoming increasingly alarmed by the failure of the 18 jobcentres they were working with to take basic actions to protect people claiming benefits such as universal credit, employment and support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance.

They recommended that urgent steps were taken to ensure jobcentre staff were properly trained in safeguarding.

The latest revelation will only add to mounting evidence that DWP as a department is not fit for purpose and that it needs to make urgent changes to ensure the safety of all benefit claimants is a priority, as demanded by the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition.

The report was written in September 2017, and Disability News Service (DNS) learned about its existence the following spring, about eight months later.

To avoid identifying its source, DNS submitted a freedom of information request asking DWP to release all reports written by Community Partners while working for DWP in London in 2017 and 2018.

But DWP continually delayed answering the request, breaching freedom of information laws in the process.

Last August, a civil servant in DWP’s freedom of information team told DNS that she had repeatedly attempted to secure a response from the jobcentre operations team and had warned them they had breached their legal duties under the act, adding: “I have tried. I don’t know why they are digging their heels. I am sorry.”

DWP eventually answered the request by claiming that it held no such reports, but after DNS complained to the information commissioner, DWP released several documents in January this year.

But these documents did not include the safeguarding report.

Now, in a letter to the information commissioner, DWP has admitted that the safeguarding report did exist but that it was destroyed after 12 months because its “Information Management policy only requires us to keep a corporate document of an internal briefing for a period of 12 months”.

That 12 months period ended at least four months after DNS first asked for this and other Community Partner reports to be released.

This suggests that DWP destroyed the safeguarding report to prevent it being released to DNS.

DWP refused to comment on its actions yesterday (Wednesday), and on the contents of the report.

But Rachel*, one of the report’s three authors, said she believed DWP had destroyed the document because it did not want to see it published.

She has previously described to DNS how DWP failed to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed during the six months she worked as a Community Partner.

She has now described some of the appalling safeguarding failings she witnessed, which led to her and her two colleagues deciding to write their report just two weeks after starting work.

On one occasion, Rachel heard a member of staff explain that a claimant with cancer of the spine, who needed his dressing changed every day, should be found fit for work “so he’s looking forward to the future”.

She also remembers sitting in on an interview with a universal credit claimant, who was 55 and not disabled and had just been made redundant.

He had been hit by the bedroom tax and said repeatedly that he was hungry because he was so short of money, but the DWP civil servant failed to tell him that he could request foodbank vouchers.

When Rachel asked the civil servant after the interview why she had not told him he could ask for vouchers, she was told: “Because he didn’t ask.”

Rachel said: “He said four times that he was hungry and couldn’t afford to go shopping and didn’t have enough money for food.

That is just dangerous. That person is going to end up with malnutrition and depression.

It was just a regular guy who was doing his best and did not know how the system worked, let alone that the magic word was ‘foodbank’.”

On another occasion, a man in extreme mental distress who had previously self-harmed in the Brixton jobcentre after being found fit for work, returned to the jobcentre and again began self-harming by banging his head against a window.

Staff were standing around watching, said Rachel, who had to take control, find a manager and tell them to contact the council’s social services department.

Despite her intervention, no report on the incident was written, despite her repeatedly asking for an incident report form.

She believes her insistence that the incident needed to be written up was one of the reasons she was eventually sacked, although DWP claimed it was because she had retweeted a social media post criticising Iain Duncan Smith, even though she believes the tweet was sent before she started working for DWP.

She said: “They all know they are putting people at risk but all they are concerned about is ticking boxes.”

DWP this week refused to comment on the safeguarding report, its contents and how the freedom of information request was handled.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are not able to comment on the handling of individual FOIs.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office is continuing to investigate DWP’s failure to produce the report.

For years, DNS has been reporting on the alleged failure of DWP jobcentres to safeguard disabled people left in vulnerable situations because of flaws in the benefits system.

Many of these failings have led to the deaths of benefit claimants and will have subsequently been reported on in secret DWP peer reviews (now renamed internal process reviews).

The deaths of disabled people such as Lawrence BondDavid Clapson and Alan McArdle – and many others – have been linked to alleged failings of policy or practice within jobcentres.

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

That report led campaigners to set up the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which has now been backed by eight families of benefit claimants who lost their lives because of DWP failings, and is supported by Black TriangleDisabled People Against CutsMental Health Resistance NetworkWOWcampaign, and DNS.

The petition has so far been signed by more than 25,000 people in less than three weeks. If it reaches 100,000 signatures, it should be debated in parliament.

Rachel said she backed the petition.

She said: “The safety of claimants is paramount. They really don’t have a clue as to how vulnerable people are.

They are messing with people’s lives. It’s terrible. It’s really shocking.”

*Not her real name

To sign the Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

4 April 2019

 

 

Twin backs call for inquiry into DWP failings, four years after brother’s suicide

The twin brother of a man who killed himself after being told he was ineligible for two disability benefits has backed calls for an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and deaths of benefit claimants.

DWP had been told the man, Michael*, from the West Midlands, was depressed and suicidal, in addition to his recent sight loss, but still found him fit for work.

He was also found ineligible for personal independence payment (PIP), with the letters rejecting his two benefit applications arriving within days of each other.

Michael’s brother, Adam*, had filled in the employment and support allowance (ESA) claim form on his behalf, and had made it clear his twin was severely depressed and suicidal, following sight loss that had led to him losing his job as a highly-skilled mechanic working on HGVs months earlier.

But Adam says DWP ignored that information and made no attempt to ensure his safety when it sent the two letters, one after the other, telling him he was losing his entitlement to ESA – which he had been granted while he was being assessed – and that he would not be entitled to PIP.

About 10 days after receiving the two letters, Michael took his own life.

Within about a week of his funeral, DWP wrote to Michael’s widow to admit that he had been entitled to both benefits after all – including the enhanced levels of both daily living and mobility on PIP – and telling her she would receive £7,000 in backpayments.

Adam sent letters raising concerns about his brother’s case to DWP – telling the department that the decisions it made had “played a significant part in my brother’s taking his own life” – and work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, but received no reply to either of them.

Adam contacted Disability News Service (DNS) this week after reading about the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition on the Benefits and Work website.

It is the first time the family have spoken to the media since Michael’s death in February 2015.

The Jodey Whiting petition calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by civil servants or government ministers to be passed to the police.

It also calls for MPs to recognise that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose, and for DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.

By this morning, the petition had secured more than 25,000 signatures in less than three weeks. If it reaches 100,000 it should be debated by MPs in the House of Commons.

Adam said he supported the petition and believed DWP was not fit for purpose “without a shadow of a doubt”.

He said an inquiry was “not going to bring Michael back but it can make it better for other people”.

He said he came forward because he wanted to speak out about his brother, who he says was “another person let down by the broken benefit system”.

Adam, who is also disabled himself and previously set up a disability support organisation in their home town, said: “They took his benefits away. He got nothing, he was destitute. They didn’t tell him where he could go, where there were any support agencies.

I filled in his ESA form and I told them that he was depressed and suicidal. They knew that.”

He and Michael served in the army together.

Adam said: “It’s now four years gone by but it’s as if it was yesterday. I miss him every day. He was my soulmate.”

Michael’s family have now become the eighth to support the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which is also backed by the grassroots groups Black TriangleDisabled People Against CutsMental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.

A DWP spokesperson refused to apologise for the department’s failings in the case, or to explain why DWP changed its mind about Michael’s eligibility for ESA and PIP so soon after his death.

She also refused to say why DWP and Duncan Smith failed to respond to Adam’s two letters after his brother died, and whether DWP accepted Adam’s view that its failings played a significant part in his brother’s death.

But she said in a statement: “The department has received a petition relating to benefit claimants who have sadly died, and will respond to this shortly so we can’t pre-empt that.

Obviously any suicide is a very complex and tragic issue, and we can’t attribute any specific one cause to [Michael’s] case.

Our sympathies are with [his] family.

We are committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants and we keep our safeguarding guidance under constant review to ensure we provide the highest standard of protection.

Where any failings on specific cases have been identified, we have addressed these to ensure they are not repeated.”

*Names have been changed at his widow’s request

To sign the Jodey Whiting petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

4 April 2019

 

 

Number of disabled people in poverty rose by 200,000 in one year… says DWP

The number of disabled people living in poverty has risen by 200,00 in just one year, government figures have revealed.

The new figures [summary results, tables 7a and 7b], published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), show levels of absolute poverty rose between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said the figures meant another 200,000 disabled people living “terrible, degrading, miserable, half-lives”.

The figures are likely to be influenced by continuing government attempts to cut spending on disability benefits, including policies such as the benefits freeze and cuts to payments to new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG).

The WRAG cuts of nearly £30 a week were introduced in April 2017, with ministers trying to justify them by claiming they would “incentivise” sick and disabled people to find work.

The new poverty figures are part of the annual Households Below Average Income report, which was published last Thursday (28 April).

They also show that as many as 600,000 more disabled people are now in absolute poverty, compared with 2010, when the Tory-led coalition government came to power.

Media attention focused on a rise in child poverty, but the report also shows increased levels of absolute poverty – the government’s preferred measure – affecting disabled people.

Households are said to be in absolute poverty if their income is less than 60 per cent of average (median) income in 2010-11, adjusted for inflation.

Before housing costs are taken into account, the proportion of individuals living in households including a disabled person who were in absolute poverty rose from 16 per cent to 18 per cent, between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

And the number of disabled people living in absolute poverty – before housing costs – rose from 3.6 to 3.8 million.

Once housing costs have been accounted for, the proportion of individuals living in households including a disabled person who were in absolute poverty also rose, from 22 to 23 per cent.

And the number of disabled people living in absolute poverty – after housing costs – rose from 4.9 million to 5 million, an increase of 100,000.

Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Wealthy people running the government think poverty means not having much money.

They don’t understand poverty, it doesn’t just mean little money; it means bleakness, fear, misery, hopelessness, day in day out, no rest and no remission, stretching into a degrading future.  

It means hunger, it means cold in winter, it means worsening mental health, it means bad living condition and fear of being on the streets.

And for some people it means death by suicide, starvation or other easily preventable causes. 200,000 more disabled people in poverty isn’t just a number.

Five million disabled people in absolute poverty is five million individual human beings living terrible, degrading, miserable, half-lives. A living nightmare.”

Michelle Maher, from the WOWcampaign, said the figure of 200,000 more disabled people in absolute poverty was “no surprise to campaigners who recognise the multiple cuts disabled people face”, including the bedroom tax, and cuts to housing benefit and council tax support, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, cuts to employment and support allowance, and the impact of the benefits freeze and the benefit cap. 

She said WOWcampaign had been fighting for seven years “to get the government to assess the impact of all disability cuts” and to demonstrate a duty of care to disabled children and adults across the UK and to “make sure disabled people are not driven into poverty”.

She said: “They refuse, as they know the figure would emerge that disabled families could use to fight for support, and shock the public.

I absolutely cannot comprehend the inhumanity and cruelty shown to our fellow citizens.”

She predicted that the roll-out of universal credit would make the number of disabled people in absolute poverty “far, far worse”. 

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd accepted that the increase in disabled people in poverty was caused by continuing government attempts to cut spending on disability benefits, or explain what other factors may have caused the rise.

But she said in a statement: “Tackling poverty will always be a priority for this government, and we take these numbers extremely seriously.

Absolute poverty rates for people in a family reporting a disability are lower than in 2010, and we are spending £55 billion this year on benefits to support disabled people and those with health conditions – more than ever before.

We are looking at what more can be done to help the most vulnerable and improve their life chances.”

Although DWP is correct that the proportions of households in absolutely poverty are slightly lower (by one percentage point) than in 2009-10, the numbers of disabled people in absolute poverty have increased by 300,000 (before housing costs) and 600,000 (after housing costs) between 2009-10 and 2017-18.

4 April 2019

 

 

Campaigner pledges to devote his last months to saving independent living

One of the country’s best-known and most-respected disabled campaigners has pledged to devote the last months of his life to trying to save the independent living movement.

John Evans was speaking at an event held to celebrate his contribution to the movement over the last 40 years, following his diagnosis with terminal cancer.

It took place as disabled campaigners reacted furiously to revelations that disabled people are to be forced into residential homes against their will by Tory-run Barnet council’s new cost-cutting adult social care policy.

The council wants to save more than £400,000 in 2019-20 by creating more “cost effective support plans”, such as using residential care rather than funding support packages that allow disabled people to live in their own homes.

Evans spoke at the event in central London of the attack on independent living over the last decade, under successive Tory-led governments, including its closure of the Independent Living Fund in 2015, and told guests: “Ever since, through all the austerity years… it has made it far more difficult for people to live independently.

At this point in my life, looking back, we don’t want to lose all those gains we made.”

He added: “The most important thing is not to let it die, not to let it go.”

He said the work that he and others began in the late 1970s “has to continue”.

I will do all I can do in the next year or so, however long I will still be around, to try and ensure that that will be the case.

It is not going to be easy but we have to do it, to enable disabled people to continue to have choice and control.”

He said that he and fellow disabled campaigners first thought of “choice and control” as one of the basic principles of independent living in 1979.

He said: “What we were talking about was personal and social liberation of disabled people in this country and their quality of lives.

After I got my diagnosis, the main thing I thought about was to maintain my quality of life regardless and to continue the spirit of independent living on this new day-to-day journey that I have.

That’s why I remember to try to stay positive and try to stay upbeat and move in the right direction and everything I have worked for in terms of independent living in the past I have continued to do, almost with my own life now.

It is something that does have that depth of meaning and strength and can keep people going.

The solidarity we have achieved together is really, really strong.”

He said that one of the “saviours” of independent living in the age of austerity was the rise of co-production, which he said was “a way that we can enable it to survive, by working together with local authorities and CCGs [NHS clinical commissioning groups], and CCGs in particular need to do a lot more work to keep it going”.

The event was taking place 40 years after he and fellow residents of a Leonard Cheshire care home in Hampshire launched Project 81, which was aimed at securing their escape into their own homes by 1981, the UN international year of disabled people.

He spoke about their struggle to secure that escape into their own homes with council-funded personal assistance, which in the end they achieved in 1982 and 1983, and which helped pave the way for the introduction of direct payments.

He also spoke about his own life before he became disabled at the age of 25, when he had travelled widely and helped set up an ultimately unsuccessful “peace café” in the Middle East.

And he spoke of his work promoting the independent living movement across Europe through the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL), of which he was president for 10 years, “making speeches and running workshops and trying to inspire independent living projects in those countries”.

Evans told the event of the importance of the Disability Discrimination Act and the Direct Payments Act, both brought in under earlier Conservative governments, and Labour’s subsequent Life Chances report, “probably one of the most significant documents that has come out of government”.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, a friend since the early 1980s, when they met at an early British Council of Disabled People event – she remembered how he had invited her to attend a workshop on independent living he was giving – told the event: “John for me and independent living for me is about our ultimate freedom to obtain our rights.

If you don’t have independent living, you can have all the accessible buses and shops… and airports in the world, but if you can’t get out of bed and can’t choose the person who is going to look at you naked in the bath in the morning then you have no rights.”

She said Evans had helped her become an “independent living freedom fighter”.

She said: “That’s how I see myself, just carrying out the work that John told me about when I was 22; and next month I am going to be 60.”

Another leading disabled activist to pay tribute to Evans was Miro Griffiths, who sent a recorded video message.

He said Evans had shown “such clarity and understanding of the complex issues surrounding disabled people’s marginalisation and provided a real image and vision of what it is we are trying to achieve through our activism, through our negotiating with key figures, through our campaigns and through the academic work that surrounds… disabled people’s oppression in society”.

He said: “You’re one of the people I think about a lot when I am considering different ideas associated with disability rights or different ideas associated with independent living or the ideas around personal assistance… I think, ‘What would John think about this issue?’”

He said it was “fantastic” that such an event was taking place to celebrate his contribution, and the independent living movement, “and what it has been able to achieve because of your work”.

Evans said afterwards that the role of younger disabled people like Griffiths would be vital in taking on the fight for independent living.

He said: “The future is really in their hands long-term.”

He said he had been inspired by a video message from an ENIL meeting, which showed how many young disabled people were now campaigning for independent living, following ENIL’s efforts over many years to establish a Europe-wide youth network.

The event took place as the latest group of senior health and social care managers completed the Leadership for Empowered and Healthy Communities programme.

The programme aims to support these managers to have the skills and confidence to support and work in co-production with communities to improve the health and wellbeing of their local population.

Evans helped set up the programme and has been a facilitator since it started.

4 April 2019

 

 

Labour backs all Jodey Whiting petition demands

Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people has dispelled any doubts about Labour’s support for the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, making it clear that she backs every one of its demands.

Marsha de Cordova said this week that she backs everything the petition calls for, including an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants to be passed to the police.

The petition has now been signed by more than 25,000 people in less than three weeks. If the petition secures 100,000 signatures it should be debated in the House of Commons.

The need for evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to police is a key demand of the petition, following years of evidence that the actions of senior DWP figures, including ministers, have been clearly linked to the deaths of disabled people.

The call for a police investigation has been strongly backed by the eight families who have supported the petition.

De Cordova, who has been prominent this week in highlighting the government’s continuing failure to appoint a new minister for disabled people following the resignation of Sarah Newton, said: “I support each of the demands of this petition.

There is an urgent need for an independent inquiry into these deaths and I will write to the minister asking for one. It is not enough for the department to be its own judge and jury.

The DWP is not fit for purpose and has failed disabled people with tragic consequences. Their families and friends deserve answers. 

It is shameful that the DWP continues to ignore the impact that its policies are having.

The government must immediately scrap the cruel and callous assessment framework for ESA and PIP and punitive sanctions regime, which has created a hostile environment for disabled people.”

The petition was launched following the death of Jodey Whiting and is set up in her name, with the backing of Black TriangleDisabled People Against CutsMental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.

DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide in February 2017, an independent investigation found in February.

Jodey Whiting, who had a long history of mental distress, had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment when she was seriously ill. She took her own life just 15 days later.

There has also been strong support for the petition this week from Disability Labour, which represents disabled members of the party.

Fran Springfield, its co-chair, said Disability Labour supported all four of the petition’s demands.

She said: “The way the DWP treats disabled claimants is to disbelieve us, lie and use bad language about us on forms and fail to take notice when we report feeling suicidal.  

Yes, the DWP is institutionally disablist and it has not been fit for purpose since Iain Duncan Smith’s time as DWP secretary. 

We totally support the need for urgent action on safety. There should be an inquiry and if that shows misconduct or misfeasance in public office, the law must take its course.”

Wayne Blackburn, her fellow co-chair, pointed to DWP’s “appalling record” on how it treats its own staff.

He highlighted a DNS report last year which revealed that the Employment Tribunal had dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against DWP by its own staff over a 20-month period, which he said was “utterly disgraceful”.

Springfield added: “Disability Labour believes that the most important result of [an inquiry] should be that legislation and systems are put in place to ensure that deaths such as Jodey’s never happen again. 

The DWP in its current state is clearly no longer fit for purpose. It must be radically reformed.”

To sign the petition, click on this link. If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

4 April 2019

 

 

Government reveals the 73 rail stations to benefit from £300 million access funding

The government has revealed the 73 rail stations that will benefit from major improvements under its Access for All accessibility programme over the next five years.

The Department for Transport (DfT) also confirmed the announcement made in last July’s Inclusive Transport Strategy that it would spend £300 million on improvements such as lifts and footbridges between 2019-20 and the end of March 2024.

Each of the 73 stations – subject to a “feasible design being possible” – will see “an accessible route into the station, as well as to and between every platform”.

The stations were selected following nominations from the rail industry, and based on criteria including the number of disabled people in the area, value for money, and proximity to a hospital.

They were also chosen to represent a “fair geographical spread” across England, Scotland and Wales, with the preferences of train operating companies taken into account.

Access for All work is already ongoing at another 24 stations.

In addition to the major work at the 73 stations, £20 million of the funding will be used to re-launch the Mid-Tier Access for All programme, which will focus on stations where access improvements can be delivered for between £250,000 and £1 million.

DfT will seek nominations for which stations should receive this funding.

The announcement of which stations will benefit from Access for All funding in the next five years was welcomed by Transport for All, the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London.

Alan Benson, TfA’s chair, said: “We know that access to public transport is vital for improving eveybody’s life chances.

This is particularly true for disabled and older people.

This significant investment is warmly welcomed and will undoubtedly make a positive contribution to improving access to our railways.

Government figures show that for every pound invested in rail improvements there is a return of £6, so it’s not just the right thing to do but it makes economic sense too.

However, it remains that four in five of our stations on the largely Victorian infrastructure still do not have step free access, including some major landmarks such as Luton.

This has to change and as rapidly as possible.

We also know that previous awards under the Access for All programme have been deferred or delayed when the purse strings have been tightened.

We will be watching very closely to see that this pattern of behaviour is not repeated.”

The funding was also welcomed by transport access campaigner Doug Paulley.

He said: “I welcome improvements of accessibility of railway infrastructure: the accessibility problems caused by the legacy non-standard station design as a result of having the oldest railway in the world limit disabled people’s independent transport to a massive and unacceptable extent.

I hope that this set of Access for All funding doesn’t suffer the same uncertainty, cuts and delays as the last lot; also, that where possible there will be step free access from the station entrance to the train, not just to the platform.”

But he also said that any improvements to physical access would only benefit disabled people if the “human services surrounding them are sufficient”.

He said the Office of Rail and Road had pointed to significant inaccuracies in public information about the accessibility of stations, for example with access improvement at Hexham and Hebden Bridge stations, which had not initially been noted by National Rail Enquiries.

Paulley added: “It is also sad that current industry drives to remove the guaranteed presence of guards on trains may well make otherwise accessible stations inaccessible to a lot of disabled people, which undermines physical improvements such as these.”

Official documents revealed last summer that the government had repeatedly ignored concerns raised by its own accessible transport advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), about the “toxic” impact on disabled people of running trains without a member of customer service staff on board.

Last July’s announcement that the government would spend £300 million over five years followed years of funding cuts to Access for All, originally introduced by a Labour government in 2006.

Disability News Service secured figures last July through a freedom of information request that showed that spending on Access for All fell from as much as £81.1 million in 2013-14 to just £14.6 million in 2017-18.

Spending in 2009-10, the last year of the Labour government, was £53.9 million, with £41.2 million in 2010-11, £50.7 million in 2011-12, £39.7 million in 2012-13, and £81.1 million in 2013-14.

But spending then plunged over the next four years – in the first five-year planning period to begin under the coalition – with just £22.9 million in 2014-15, £24.6 million in 2015-16, £32.1 million in 2016-17 and only £14.6 million in 2017-18.

Although it is not yet clear how much was spent in 2018-19, the government is now planning to spend £300 million over the next five years on Access for All, including £50 million that had been deferred from the last five years.

Keith Richards, chair of DPTAC, welcomed the funding announcement.

He said: “The Access for All programme has already delivered significant improvements in access to rail travel for disabled people over the last 13 years. It’s crucial to continually build on that.  

The announcement is very welcome and must go hand-in-hand with clear and practical information to ensure that disabled people are aware of what improvements have been made, and that more travel options are now possible as a result.

We are working with the government to deliver a commitment to accelerate improvements, to target the funding effectively, and to monitor and assess outcomes.”

Nusrat Ghani, the transport accessibility minister, said: “We want the 13.9 million disabled people in Britain to be empowered to travel independently, which is why I am delighted to announce this roll out of upgrades across the rail network. 

Over the next five years these newly accessible stations will open up routes across the country, helping us move closer to a transport sector that is truly accessible.”

4 April 2019

 

 

Charity ‘must listen to autistic people’ in wake of abuse scandal

Protesters have warned the National Autistic Society (NAS) that it needs to listen to the voices of autistic people or face being “sidelined”, in the wake of the Mendip House abuse scandal.

Representatives of three autistic rights organisations were protesting outside the charity’s London headquarters about its failure to act on the regime of abuse that took place at the Somerset care home.

They said the scandal was a “wake up call” for NAS.

Protesters warned the charity that the autistic rights movement was growing ever stronger and that NAS must do more to listen to their voices.

Two families of autistic people who were abused at Mendip House in Brent Knoll, Somerset, were also at Friday’s protest, and provided Disability News Service (DNS) with further evidence of how the charity had failed their relatives.

The families were highly critical of NAS, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the police for their failure to stop the abusive regime earlier, and to provide justice for their autistic relatives.

Among those protesting was Joseph Radford, a member of the organising group of Neurodivergent Labour, which launched in February.

He said his message to NAS was that “autistic people are not going to take this anymore”.

He added: “We are organised. There are more of us. We are not going to be fobbed off.

We are a growing movement. We are speaking with a clearer voice.

You can’t keep sweeping stuff under the carpet anymore because if you do there will be push back.

Either listen to our voices or end up sidelined yourselves.”

He said the failure to punish the perpetrators of the abuse “just shows how autistic people are not listened to in society” and are judged only on their ability to communicate.

He said: “If we can’t communicate, we are ignored, not listened to, and abuse is overlooked.”

Emma Dalmayne, chief executive of Autistic Inclusive Meets, who organised the protest, said: “The NAS by and large is recognised by the autistic community as being for parents and children.

In order to move forward from this, I believe autistic people need to become more involved.

They also need to start supporting the hordes of adults out of work who need an advocate.”

Dalmayne called for a “proper inquiry” into what happened at Mendip House.

And she said NAS should offer compensation to the former residents of Mendip House who were abused, and that it was “appalling” that none had been offered so far.

She said: “Money cannot erase the memories or degradation. It can however go towards future care and necessities for the residents and their families.”

Julian Morgan, an AIM director and a committee member of Autistic UK, said: “NAS are saying they want to move forward from this but part of moving forward is changing your culture.

We have seen no sign that there is any intention to change their culture.

They don’t work with autistic advocates, they don’t work with autistic groups, they don’t support them.”

He said the charity had not admitted that anything happened at Mendip House until it was forced to do so.

Morgan said their concerns were not about many of the people who worked for NAS, who were “hard-working and conscientious and care about what they do”, but senior executives in “what has become a rather bloated organisation”.

He said NAS had been concerned only with its image after it found out about the abuse at Mendip House, which he said was “objectionable and abhorrent”.

And he called for senior executives responsible for failing to stop the abuse to be “stripped out” of the charity.

Rebecca*, the mother of one of the former residents of Mendip House, said NAS had downplayed the seriousness of the abuse at the homes when she and her husband were first told about it in the summer of 2016.

She told DNS: “We were told it wasn’t serious, it wasn’t sexual, it wasn’t physical and it had been dealt with and people had been suspended.”

It wasn’t until they saw the safeguarding adults review in January 2018 that they realised the seriousness of what had happened, she said.

The report detailed how staff had thrown cake at service-users and taunted them with food, while one resident was sent to his room because he refused to eat an onion, another was made to crawl on the floor on all fours, medication went missing, and one resident was said to be “known to flinch in the presence of particular employees”.

Newspaper reports also suggest that one resident was “slapped, forced to eat chillies and repeatedly thrown into a swimming pool”.

CQC decided earlier this month not to prosecute the charity, and instead fined it just £4,000 for financial abuse by staff, despite the regime of “taunting, mistreatment and humiliation of residents”.

Rebecca said she was angry that the perpetrators of the abuse had avoided prosecution and had been able to “move on with their lives”.

And she said the way the charity had dealt with the abuse had been “shocking”.

She said: “I am still so angry. They absolutely failed our kids. We have had, ‘We are really sorry,’ but sorry comes cheap.”

Her daughter was a resident at Mendip House for 22 years, until she left after the abuse was uncovered.

Rebecca said there were concerns about safety standards in the home “right from the beginning” because her daughter has been injured several times by a “challenging” fellow resident, on one occasion having to be admitted to hospital.

She said: “We weren’t told about it until he had hurt her three times.”

One of the things she and her husband want to see for disabled people in care who do not have capacity to make their own decisions is the installation of CCTV cameras in communal areas of such homes.

Rebecca’s husband said he believed NAS had taken in residents with challenging behaviour alongside others like his daughter who were vulnerable in such situations because it allowed them to charge more money.

He said: “A person like [my daughter] should be entitled to be not afraid of the people they are living with.”

Rebecca said: “It was a whole system failure. Everybody has failed us: the CQC, the police, the commissioners who paid for it, and mostly the NAS.”

Sarah*, whose brother was a resident of Mendip House for more than 40 years, said she too had been told by the charity in the summer of 2016 that the concerns were just over “laddish” behaviour and “horseplay and high jinks” by young male members of staff.

But she later found out that her brother had “gone through this terrible ordeal”.

She was told the abuse only took place over a year-and-a-half, but she believes he was being abused for far longer than that.

She said: “I am looking back through those years when he said, ‘I don’t want to go back to Somerset Court [Mendip House was one of seven NAS facilities on the Somerset Court site].’

He would get so depressed that he had to go back to Somerset Court. It got worse and worse, particularly in the last six years.”

She said her brother was much happier now in his new home.

Sarah has spoken to one whistle-blower who says she was sacked and threatened after she raised concerns about the abusive regime at Mendip House.

She said: “What is not right is it just being swept under the carpet. For me, the whistle-blowers and the abusers are being treated the same – they all lost their jobs.”

She also wants to see CCTV cameras installed in such homes in the future, as well as “transparency” from service-providers like NAS.

NAS repeated its apologies for the abuse at Mendip House, and said it was “shocked to hear that families believe there was abuse before 2014, as this is not something that has come up in previous investigations.

We hope that they will raise it with us in our subsequent correspondence so we can investigate.

They should, of course, also still report this to the CQC so that it can be investigated.”

A spokesperson said NAS was “profoundly sorry for the abuse and poor practice” at Mendip House.

He said: “We listen to the voices of autistic people and always make sure that our work is informed by the experiences of autistic people and their families.

And we’re always open to ideas about how we can do this more or better.”

He said autistic people work at the charity, shape its campaigns and training material and co-present at its training and conferences, while the autistic people it supports are “absolutely central in planning their own care and support”.

He said NAS would work with any further inquiries that were launched, and would respond to any concerns from families, including on possible compensation.

The spokesperson said that NAS had taken “immediate action” once it became aware at a national level of what had happened at Mendip House in 2016, disciplining and dismissing staff and then introducing “a range of other changes to try and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again”.

He said: “We believe we had and have the right people in place to implement these changes and that any resignations would not have helped the situation.

If it ever becomes apparent that we don’t have the right staff in place – at any level – then we will of course replace them with people who can continue to improve our services.”

He said that the decision of Mark Lever, NAS’s chief executive, to leave the charity “does not have anything to do with the abuse at Mendip House”.

And he said NAS was “very sorry to hear that two of the families feel that we misled them” about the scale of the abuse in June 2016, and added: “At the time of this meeting we did not know all the details and were also limited in what we could say because there was an ongoing police investigation.”

He also said it was “not true” that NAS had taken in residents with challenging behaviour alongside those who would be vulnerable living alongside them so it could charge more money “as each and every placement in our services has to be based on someone’s needs and also compatibility with the other people in the service”.

On the issue of CCTV cameras in communal areas, he said: “It’s obviously a complicated issue, given that we’re talking about people’s homes.

However, we recognise that this is something that all care providers need to think about and we are exploring how this could work while protecting people’s right to privacy.”

He said any such decision “must be made in consultation with the people who use… services, their families, carers and staff”.

He also denied that any member of staff at Mendip House was sacked for being a whistleblower, which he said was “not something that we would do”.

*Not their real names

4 April 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 15:48
Mar 282019
 

 

Capita assessor lied about woman’s thoughts of suicide, recording shows

A disabled woman who repeatedly spoke about her thoughts of suicide during an assessment had her disability benefits removed after the assessor lied to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about what she had heard, a recording shows.

The woman, Diane*, who has been under the care of a psychiatrist for more than two decades, secretly recorded last November’s face-to-face assessment, which was carried out by an occupational therapist working for the outsourcing giant Capita.

Despite Diane later telling DWP what had happened in detail, explaining her concerns about the assessment, and reminding the department that she had had years of treatment for significant mental distress, a civil servant dismissed her account and confirmed the decision to remove her entitlement to personal independence payment (PIP).

It is the latest evidence that DWP’s disability benefits system poses a significant risk to the safety of disabled people claiming benefits, particularly those experiencing mental distress, and that the department itself is not fit for purpose.

And it will add weight to calls – through the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition – for the department to take urgent measures to make the safety of claimants a priority, for MPs to acknowledge that DWP is not fit for purpose, and for them to call for an independent inquiry into links between its actions and the deaths of disabled people claiming benefits.

Only last week, DWP faced fresh allegations of negligence after admitting that it keeps no records of how many of the complaints it receives involve the death of a claimant of disability benefits.

Diane has told Disability News Service (DNS) that her experience convinced her that the assessment process was “utterly broken and unfit for purpose”.

On the recording, Diane tells the occupational therapist who carried out the assessment several times that she is currently struggling with suicidal thoughts.

But the assessor, in a report subsequently sent to DWP, concluded: “They deny any current thoughts of suicide and/or self-harm.”

And despite Diane – and her husband, who had accompanied her – describing her paranoid delusions, hallucinations, psychosis, extreme levels of anxiety and suicidal depression, the assessor told DWP in her report: “She denies experiencing any thought disorders or perceptions.”

There were many other blatant inaccuracies in the report.

A month after the assessment, her mental health further damaged by the assessment process, Diane attempted to take her own life.

Three weeks later, on 6 January, as a result of the assessment report, DWP removed Diane’s eligibility for PIP, which she had previously received at the daily living enhanced rate.

She was admitted to hospital again later that month, after her husband began the process of seeking a mandatory reconsideration of the decision.

But when she told DWP about the dishonest assessment report, a civil servant confirmed the decision to remove her PIP and told her that assessors have “nothing to gain by fabricating evidence or suppressing information and will invariably report what they observe and what they are told at the assessment.”

The civil servant added: “The available evidence indicates there is no significant degree of impairment.”

Diane contacted DNS about her experience after reading about the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which asks MPs to: brand DWP not fit for purpose and disablist; call for the department to take urgent action to make the safety of benefit claimants a priority; and demand an inquiry into DWP’s links with numerous deaths.

The petition** has been backed by the families of seven disabled people who have died in cases linked to DWP, as well as four grassroots groups of disabled people – Black TriangleDisabled People Against CutsMental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaignand DNS.

After being contacted about Diane’s case by DNS, a Capita spokesperson refused to say if the company accepted that the assessment report was negligent or dishonest, or if Diane’s experience showed it was putting the safety of claimants at risk and that DWP was not fit for purpose.

But she said in a statement: “We are committed to delivering a high quality and empathetic service for people applying for PIP.

We operate a robust complaints process for anyone that is unhappy with the service provided, including escalating the complaint to the DWP should a customer feel it has not been satisfactorily resolved.

We are looking into this case.” 

A DWP spokesperson said: “We want everyone to have a good experience at their PIP assessment and we have asked our assessment provider to look at [Diane’s] PIP claim to ensure she is getting the full support she’s entitled to.”

But she declined to say if DWP believed the assessment report was dishonest or negligent, or if the case showed again that the department was not fit for purpose and was putting the safety of claimants at risk.

Diane said: “This case is truly representative of how broken the PIP system is all across the UK, with so many cases getting overturned at appeal.

It is totally unfair to discriminate in this way against disabled people, who also may not be as able to stand up for their rights.

The DWP are making disabled people even more ill and in quite a few tragic cases killing disabled people.

I very nearly became one of the statistics in December 2018.

The stress of PIP has added to an already huge burden of pressures. I was admitted to hospital again in January suicidal.

The wider cost to society of these PIP appeals is far more than any cost savings projected by the government.”

*Not her real name

**To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, visit parliament’s petitions website . If you sign it, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

28 March 2019

 

 

Jack Carroll: ‘I was treated with derision and suspicion in my PIP assessment’

Disabled stand-up comic and actor Jack Carroll has blamed the government for creating a “hostile environment” that led to him being treated with “derision and suspicion” during a routine disability benefit assessment.

Carroll, whose new film Eaten by Lions is released tomorrow (Friday), said he was shocked by the “semi-dehumanising” tone used by the assessor last August.

He declined to say where the assessment took place because he believes his treatment was due to “learned behaviour” taught by the government, but he told Disability News Service (DNS) that his personal independence payment (PIP) assessment was a “strange and Orwellian experience”.

He said: “I felt like I was being treated with derision and suspicion.”

Carroll, who uses a walking-frame and had turned up five minutes late because he had trouble finding a parking space, was at first told that the assessment would not now go ahead.

Imagine if someone was a lot more disabled than I am,” he said. “I could not believe that. That really just brought home the system as a whole.”

He told DNS that his experiences as a disabled person have been “generally positive”, and that he has found most people “decent and relatively compassionate”, adding later: “I try not to get too outraged about things.”

He is, he said, naturally “quite a gregarious, affable person”, but even he became “a bit angry” after the initial confrontation.

Carroll said he found it shocking to be confronted with “a semi-dehumanising tone which I don’t really come up against in my day-to-day life”.

He added: “At the time I got annoyed with the person but… then I took a step back and I thought that was just learned behaviour from a government policy that is trying to marginalise and destroy, for a lot of people, any hope.”

He eventually received the level of benefits he feels he was entitled to, but he said: “The former system [disability living allowance] was an awful lot easier and more human.”

He said the PIP system must change.

The behaviour he came across at his assessment, and the failure to “weigh up the emotional impact on the person” was, he said, “systemic rather than individuals being knowingly horrendous, so you’ve got to change the system.

I’d brought a paper copy of my ID, which the assessor wasn’t for accepting, so that’s another hurdle, and then general questions about how far I could walk, how far I could lift my leg up, things that I don’t think about, and hate really to put the microscope on in that minute detail, at whatever level is some level of a humiliating experience.

I don’t think there is any care to make people feel human in that environment.”

He said he blamed the government for the “inhumanity” of the system, because it “created the climate for it”, and he added: “I think the government creates a hostile environment for most people who aren’t Jacob Rees-Mogg.

If you want to change that you have got to change the system. That’s what it will take.”

He also believes that the “constant hammering of Brexit” acts as a “mass hypnosis technique” to distract people from “the things that are really going on in the world”, such as the way disabled people are treated, the PIP assessment system and the Windrush scandal.

Fans of his stand-up – he has become a regular on the comedy circuit in the years following his breakthrough as a 14-year-old in 2013, when he was runner-up on Britain’s Got Talent – can expect a routine based on the PIP assessment process to appear in his act soon, he said.

Eaten By Lions is his first film, but it follows television appearances in shows such as the Sky sitcom Trollied, CBBC’s The Ministry Of Curious Stuff and BBC1’s Big School, as well as stand-up slots on ITV1’s Sunday Night At The Palladium and BBC2’s Live At The Apollo.

He said his role in the film – a “classic road movie” about two half-brothers, one white, Pete, and one Asian, Omar, who go to Blackpool in search of Omar’s dad – gave him greater freedom to improvise and “play around” than his work on Trollied, with its “tight scripts”.

He enjoyed the filming process, which took place two years ago, and said it felt like going “on a journey” with a “good group of people”.

One of the things he likes about the film, he said, is that although it deals with issues of diversity, it doesn’t do so in a self-conscious way. He looks forward to a future where disability is just an everyday fact of life on television.

In five or 10 years it would be nice to see disabled characters on TV and presenters and things just be existing and people referencing it in a less overt manner,” he said.

Asked whether his generally positive view of how disabled people are usually treated came as a result of his own experiences – he was discovered at the age of just 12 by comedian Jason Manford and opened for him at three of his shows in 2010 – he said: “You can make that argument.”

But he also puts it down to his family, and the attitude they “instilled” in him about his impairment.

Obviously a compassionate one, first and foremost, but also a belief that anything you put your mind to, with the help of others, you can achieve. That has played a part in my outlook as well.”

He also believes that growing up as a disabled child helped his development as a comedian.

He said: “I probably wouldn’t have developed the sense of humour or the ability with language that I’ve developed if I didn’t have a disability, because as a kid I couldn’t necessarily move around as quickly, I had to get good at talking and being able to communicate things to people.

I’d like to think that played a part in the development of being able to do what I do for a living.”

His interview with DNS came a few weeks after the latest controversy over “cripping up” – the issue of non-disabled actors playing disabled characters – this time following Bryan Cranston’s role as a wheelchair-user in The Upside.

Carroll said he understood why the film’s producers chose Cranston instead of an unknown disabled actor.

I know there are issues of representation and not everyone getting a foot in the door, but for any actor if you had a choice between Bryan Cranston and an actor without a profile they are always going to go for Bryan Cranston.”

He said the solution was to improve representation of disabled actors at the grassroots level and build from there.

It’s about giving disabled actors a platform where they can compete with Bryan Cranston,” he said, “but that begins at a grassroots level.”

Now 20 and no longer a teenage prodigy, he is writing a sitcom, as well as continuing with his stand-up and enjoying acting jobs when they come along.

I enjoy it all,” he said. “I would like to keep doing a little bit of everything.

I have got goals and things I would like to accomplish but the best stuff in my career has come from leaving a gap to let the thing happen and let whatever it is do its work.”

28 March 2019

 

 

Tory council set to force disabled people into residential care to cut costs

Disabled people are to be forced into residential homes against their will by a Conservative council’s new cost-cutting adult social care policy, campaigners have warned.

Barnet council wants to save more than £400,000 in 2019-20 by creating more “cost effective support plans”, such as using residential care rather than funding support packages that allow disabled people to live in their own homes.

The north London council says it wants to consider “the full range of care options to meet eligible needs (eg residential care), rather than offering community-based placements (eg supported living) by default”.

This means a new “assumption that new clients are placed in cheaper accommodation settings where appropriate”.

Michael Nolan, a trustee of the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion Barnet, told Disability News Service yesterday (Wednesday): “The Inclusion Barnet board are extremely concerned about these proposals, which we fear could leave some disabled people confined to residential care when they might otherwise have been able to live independently.

We believe that this could impact people least able to self-advocate, and is also against the spirit of the Care Act.”

Inclusion Barnet wrote to the council in January to warn that the “misconceived” plans risked “disabled people with high support needs being confined to residential placements against their will” and breached article 19 (on independent living) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The council has failed to reply to the letter.

A council document [PDF] also shows that it has not consulted on the plan and will only discuss it with disabled people as part of the “assessment and support planning process”.

It admits that “some clients” and their families “may consider this change unfavourable if they have a preference for a community placement”, which it says “could have an impact on customer satisfaction”.

The council – long seen as a flagship Tory local authority – has carried out an equality impact assessment of the new policy, which concludes that “it is possible that not having the option of a council-funded community placement will be seen as negative”, but claims that the negative impact on “some equality strands” will be “minimal”.

Cllr Reema Patel, who leads on adult social care for the Labour opposition in Barnet, and is a former member of the executive committee of Disability Labour, said: “Due to austerity, there is more incentive for councils to offer people with high support needs residential placements because it is cheaper.

However, this runs counter to established principles around disabled people’s rights, principles that support the right to independent living, choice, agency and control.”

Fleur Perry, a disabled campaigner who raised concerns about similar policies in NHS clinical commissioning groups two years ago, said: “This policy seems to be designed to push disabled people into residential care, putting financial pressures above people’s own choices about where and who they live with.

They highlight that people may consider this ‘unfavourable’; I’d be livid!

Placing somebody into residential care against their wishes without exploring how they could be supported to stay in their own home may be unlawful under the Human Rights Act 1998 (article eight: private and family life).

I’d ask Barnet council not to put themselves in a position where they could be legally challenged, and instead follow a policy that respects the right to independent living and for people to have choice and control over their own lives.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission claimed it had “concerns about the erosion of services and support to enable disabled people to choose where they live and who they live with” but has so far declined to look at what is happening in Barnet.

Barnet council refused to say how it justified putting people in institutional care when they wanted to live independently in the community; and refused to say how many extra disabled people were likely to end up in residential care in 2019-20 as a result of its policy.

It even refused to confirm that the new measure was now council policy.

But Cllr Sachin Rajput, chair of the council’s adults and safeguarding committee, claimed in a statement that his local authority remained “firmly committed to delivering high standards of care and support for those in need across Barnet, particularly our most vulnerable residents”.

He said: “We will carefully consider the range of accommodation options available to meet the particular needs of our residents, whilst also considering the limited resources that will be available to us as a council.

Every person will be assessed individually, with their views and the impact on their wellbeing carefully considered.

For the small number of people that will be offered a residential care placement, satisfaction levels and outcomes will be carefully monitored.

Barnet council will continue to comply with all of its duties under the Care Act (2014).

28 March 2019

 

 

Jodey Whiting petition: Lib Dems back petition, but doubts over Labour

A petition calling for an inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has secured the support of more than 20,000 people in less than two weeks.

By this morning (Thursday), more than 22,000 people had signed the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, more than a fifth of the way to the target of 100,000 which should ensure it is debated in the House of Commons.

The Liberal Democrats added their support this week, with their disabled president, Baroness [Sal] Brinton, signing the petition and confirming that she backed each of its key demands, following similar support last week from the Green party.

But there is still a lingering question over the commitment of the Labour party to the petition.

Despite backing it on Twitter, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, has yet to make a statement on its demands, 10 days after Disability News Service first asked her to comment.

The petition wants to see any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers or civil servants that is produced by the inquiry to be passed to police.

It also calls for MPs to recognise DWP as “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose”, and to push DWP to introduce urgent changes to make the safety of all claimants a priority.

Jodey Whiting, who had a long history of mental distress, had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment when she was seriously ill, and took her own life just 15 days later.

DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide in February 2017, an independent investigation found last month.

Baroness Brinton said: “What happened to Jodey Whiting was incredibly tragic and should never have happened.

However, we are continually hearing of other worrying tales of how disabled people are being treated by the Department for Work and Pensions and we must see action taken by the Conservatives to guarantee wholescale reform of the system.

They must act to ensure that a tragedy such as Jodey’s never happens again.”

Meanwhile, fresh evidence has emerged this week that DWP is not fit purpose.

A report from the Demos think tank has concluded that disabled people have lost all faith in DWP, with only 19 per cent trusting jobcentre staff to treat them fairly.

And a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) concluded today (Thursday) that DWP still has “limited evidence of what works when it comes to supporting disabled people to work”.

Christine Jardine, DWP spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said the NAO findings “simply add to the mounting stack of evidence showing that the DWP is not fit for purpose” while de Cordova said the government had “bitterly failed to support disabled people into employment”.

28 March 2019

 

 

Tomlinson silent after ‘lying’ to MPs about benefits freeze

A minister has failed to apologise after he was caught misleading an influential committee of MPs about the impact of his government’s cuts on disabled people.

Justin Tomlinson, a former minister for disabled people, was being questioned by the Commons work and pensions committee about the impact of his government’s benefits freeze, which is due to last until next year.

He told the committee (10.21am on the recording) that “disability benefits were exempt from the benefits freeze”.

But that is not true, a fact repeatedly pointed out to Tory ministers and his party.

Last summer, the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, who resigned earlier this month, made the same inaccurate claim in a House of Commons debate.

Disability living allowance, personal independence payment and the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group top-up are exempt from the benefits freeze, which is set to last to 2020 and was first introduced in 2016.

But there is no exemption for the main component of ESA or the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group, which continue to be frozen.

This means that every disabled person receiving ESA, the main out-of-work disability benefit, has been and will be hit financially by the freeze until at least next year.

A spokesperson in Tomlinson’s Commons office said it was a “matter for his ministerial portfolio” and so any comment should come from DWP.

DWP had not responded to requests for a comment by noon today (Thursday).

Earlier in the evidence session, the committee’s chair, the independent MP Frank Field, said that he and fellow committee member Heidi Allen, another independent, had been in Chester recently and were told by an advice worker: “We now do not meet anybody who is not hungry and cold.”

Field said the country now had a social security system which “is not providing a safety net” but is designed to “push people into destitution: hungry and cold”.

He asked Tomlinson how many people were receiving no universal credit at all because of deductions made in their monthly payments due to being sanctioned or having to pay back debts, for example to utility companies.

He told Tomlinson that he wanted to know the numbers because he would be “haunted” by them if he was a minister required to put the government’s policies into effect.

Neil Couling, director general of the universal credit programme, said no-one should have more than 40 per cent of their payments deducted.

But Field told him: “So those constituents coming to us saying they are getting nothing under universal credit are mistaken?”

Tomlinson appeared to accept that some people were receiving nothing through universal credit because of sanctions and debt repayments, but he said this was probably due to “a breakdown in their relationship with their individual [jobcentre] work coach”.

He said: “It is clear that in some cases, for whatever reason, that claimant doesn’t feel in the position to have that conversation, and that’s where more work needs to be done.”

But Field told him he was living in a “fantasy world”, and added: “If I was a claimant I wouldn’t know the hell what your rules are.”

Tomlinson suggested that the situation should improve through guidance for work coaches, the “universal support” scheme that will be provided by Citizens Advice to universal credit claimants on behalf of DWP from next month, and stronger partnerships with local organisations such as food banks.

Couling eventually admitted that if a single claimant had 40 per cent of their payment deducted, they would be left with about £42 a week to live on.

But Labour MP Steve McCabe said some claimants could face a shortfall in their rent if it was not being covered by the housing costs element of universal credit, “so leaving them with almost nothing” if they had to use much of their £42 to cover that gap.

Field said the committee was considering asking every MP how many people were turning up to their constituency surgeries saying they were receiving nothing through universal credit.

Tomlinson said: “We have got to make sure everybody, particularly vulnerable people, are getting the money that they are entitled to as quick as possible and that is where we have got to focus a huge amount of work.”

28 March 2019

 

 

Disabled peer criticises Lib Dem leader over support for ‘discriminatory threat’

A disabled peer has criticised Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable for backing the “discriminatory” campaign to legalise assisted suicide.

Cable had spoken out after the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) decided to move to a position of “neutrality” on the issue, even though half of its fellows and members still oppose legalisation.

RCP’s policy-making council had decided ahead of the survey results being published that it would move to a neutral position unless those calling for it to support or oppose a change in the law secured 60 per cent of the vote.

Neither side achieved that figure, although those calling on RCP to oppose a change in the law easily outnumber those who think it should support legalisation.

The results of the RCP survey show that 43 per cent of nearly 6,900 RCP fellows and members said RCP should be opposed to a change in the law, just one percentage point lower than when the survey was last conducted five years ago.

The proportion of those saying it should support a law change increased, from 25 per cent to 32 per cent, while just one in four said RCP should take a neutral stance.

But after the survey results were published, Cable said the vote was “reassuring” and that legislation was now “overdue”.

He backed legalisation last month, in an article in the Daily Mail, in which he said that he had changed his position, despite previously being persuaded that legalisation was unsafe by the deaths of his first wife from breast cancer, and his mother, who had had dementia.

Despite his backing, legalisation is not party policy as it has not been approved by members, while Cable has announced that he will soon step down as party leader.

Cable welcomed the RCP survey results, and said in a Liberal Democrat press release: “As someone who has recently been persuaded of the merits of allowing properly regulated assisted dying with safeguards, it is reassuring that many medical professionals are also making the same journey.

Opinion is changing and it is now overdue that legislation should come forward to address this important social issue.”

But the crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, co-founder of Not Dead Yet UK (NDY UK), criticised his comments.

She said: “For Vincent Cable to referred to the Royal College of Physicians as the reason why this should now be looked at again is very weak as we all know that the way the poll was conducted was highly flawed.”

She pointed out that there were fewer people supporting a position of neutrality than there were the other two options, which makes RCP’s position “dishonest”.

She said: “It’s so depressing that disabled people, who have so many other battles to fight for support to live with dignity and respect, have now got to fight this discriminatory threat again.

It feels like a relentless battle to stay safe and alive.”

Asked to respond to Baroness Campbell’s concerns, Cable’s spokesperson declined to do so, but said in a statement: “Vince Cable has recently expressed support for a change in legislation based on the principles and safeguards established in recent years after previous attempts to change the law.

These include offering assisted dying only to those who are medically certified as having a terminal illness, certified as being mentally capable, and where a judge and two doctors are satisfied that the request is voluntary.”

Those personally supporting a change in the law in the RCP poll increased from 32 to 41 per cent, while those opposing it fell from 58 to 49 per cent, compared with 2014.

But there was only a small change in the proportion of those who would be prepared to participate in assisted suicide if the law changed, with those saying they would rising from 21 to 25 per cent, and those saying they would not falling from 58 to 55 per cent.

Professor Andrew Goddard, RCP’s president, said that adopting a neutral position would allow the body to “reflect the differing opinions among our membership”.

He said RCP would not be focusing on the issue in its work but would instead “continue championing high-quality palliative care services”.

Last year, the latest legal bid to change the law – this time taken by Noel Conway, who is terminally-ill with motor neurone disease – was rejected by the court of appeal.

NDY UK had intervened in the case, raising concerns such as the danger that disabled people might be at risk of coercion if it was legalised.

In a witness statement, Baroness Campbell had told the court that a ruling in favour of Conway would “damage beyond repair the way in which society views the elderly, sick and disabled to the point where the Equality Act itself and the protection which it provides becomes fundamentally defective”.

Three senior court of appeal justices had highlighted this concern and also pointed in their judgment to a report by the Royal College of General Practitioners which expressed fears that a “right to die” could very easily become a “duty to die”, particularly “when financial considerations were a factor and the individual felt like a burden to their family”.  

They concluded that there could be “no doubt that Parliament is a far better body for determining the difficult policy issue in relation to assisted suicide” than the courts because of the “conflicting, and highly contested, views within our society on the ethical and moral issues and the risks and potential consequences of a change in the law”.

Parliament has repeatedly rejected attempts to change the law on assisted suicide, including the latest effort by Labour MP Rob Marris, in 2015.

28 March 2019

 

 

Angel’ investor seeks entrepreneurs to transform life for disabled people

Disabled entrepreneurs with technology-based business ideas that could transform life for other disabled people have a chance to secure up to £100,000 of funding through an “angel” investment programme.

Entrepreneur and investor Rohan Silva, a former senior policy adviser to Conservative prime minister David Cameron, is one of 12 successful entrepreneurs who have each been handed £100,000 by technology investment fund Atomico to invest in early-stage technology companies.

After discussions with disabled journalist Steve O’Hear, Silva decided to invest all the money he has been given in one or two technology start-ups with the potential to improve the lives of disabled people.

Silva, co-founder of Second Home, a social business that supports job creation and entrepreneurship, is particularly keen to see ideas from tech start-ups founded or co-founded by disabled people*.

O’Hear, a technology and business journalist who reports on tech start-ups for the website TechCrunch, will act as a volunteer “sounding board” for Silva.

He said that Silva’s idea to focus on disability “had come partly from conversations he and I have had in the past around the lack of diversity in the tech industry, including disability, and the stink I’d made with regards to [chancellor] Philip Hammond’s idiotic comments attempting to link the UK’s low productivity with high rates of employment of disabled people”.

He said: “I immediately thought that angel investing in disabled entrepreneurs was a good idea but told him that if he wanted to have more impact he should also consider businesses that explicitly target the disabled consumer, since disabled people are being ripped off on a whole range of products or services.”

The start-ups could, for example, offer a mobile app, other types of software, a tech-enabled service or new types of hardware.

O’Hear said: “My investment thesis was that unlike other sectors, tech hasn’t yet delivered the same level of service, convenience and innovation to the disabled consumer that we see more generally, and that there are many disability markets ripe for disruption.”

He added: “From insurance, financing, travel and accommodation, to specialist products such as wheelchair accessories, disabled clothing and fashion, or mobility devices, there are countless disability markets which feel dominated by legacy players that don’t utilise tech very well or are outright monopolies or predatory in nature.

Depending on how big the market is for any one product or service, broadly speaking this is exactly the type of opportunity smart investors look for.” 

He said that many disabled people have the “instincts, aptitude and life experience to make great entrepreneurs” because they are often “driven by having something to prove”.

And he said he was particularly interested in businesses that would help disabled people “level up” in their personal or work lives, by saving money, using their time more efficiently, or achieving greater independence and autonomy.

He said: “So much of my time and money is wasted on being disabled, which, when you think about it, is a collective waste of society’s resources.

Disabled people have so much to contribute as a whole, both in spending power and through what we are capable of achieving via individual endeavours, but this is being siphoned off by companies delivering poor consumer experiences whilst ripping off the disabled consumer wholesale.”

O’Hear said there are usually huge mark-ups on products that target disabled consumers, who can expect to pay up to 10 times the price, “with no direct correlation to the cost of providing those products or services”.

He said he wanted to see applications for funding from start-ups that want to fix some of these “broken markets”, in areas such as disability insurance or personalised wheelchair accessories.

He said: “I recently bought a new adapted vehicle and had to find new car insurance and the experience took me back to 2003, which was the last time I bought a car.

Literally nothing had changed and it felt incredibly uncompetitive and lacking in choice.”

*To submit a pitch deck – a power-point presentation describing the business idea and plan – to Rohan Silva, email him at inclusivetechfund@gmail.com

28 March 2019

 

 

User-led advice centre set to close its doors after NHS funding blow

A disabled people’s organisation is set to have to close the doors of its advice centre, which has provided vital support with benefit claims to thousands of disabled people, after nearly all its funding was suddenly withdrawn by a local NHS body.

Possability People has been running the advice centre for 30 years, but it was told by Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) that it was going to stop all its annual funding from next month.

The CCG told Possability People* that it needed to focus its “limited resources on essential priority areas, and services which are not already provided by either statutory or voluntary sector organisations”.

But local MPs have described the decision as “hugely counterproductive” and “unconscionable”.

As a result of the cut – which will see the centre lose 85 per cent of its funding – the service will have to stop offering face-to-face advice and will only be able to offer a restricted telephone helpline run by volunteers.

In 2018, the centre supported more than 2,200 people, with a total of nearly 4,500 enquiries, at a cost to the CCG of just £29,000.

It is the only accessible pan-disability advice service in the city, and as well as benefits, offers help with issues including equipment grants, blue badges, bus passes, housing, social care support and food bank referrals.

It is run by three part-time staff and volunteers, most of whom are disabled people.

Today (Thursday), Possability People and some of its clients are due to attend a meeting of Brighton and Hove council to share their concerns and ask the local authority if it can fill the gap left by the withdrawal of the CCG’s funding.

Brighton and Hove CCG has so far declined to release the “robust” equality impact assessment it says it carried out into the decision to cut the centre’s funding.

It has also refused to say whether it checked if other organisations in Brighton had the spare capacity to cope if the centre had to withdraw its services.

Geraldine Des Moulins, Possability People’s chief executive, said disabled people were again “bearing the brunt of funding decisions made without any real understanding of the impact they will have.

We are keenly aware of the financial pressures health and social care services are under, but we can’t see how this will be a real saving as the first thing most people do in a crisis with nowhere else to turn is go to their GP.”

She added: “We know that advice services are already over-subscribed because advice services in the city work closely together in partnership.

The CCG has not been in touch with them prior to making a decision to ask if they have any extra capacity because the messages we are getting from them is of shock and concern.”

She said the CCG had argued that its funding duplicated services, but the Possability People advice centre “is specialist and pan impairment and is not replicated anywhere in the city”.

She added: “The advice centre is often the last port of call for people who find themselves in desperate situations – to have this lifeline taken away seems particularly cruel.

We will be doing all we can to fund the centre in the longer term, and our volunteers will help as much as they can by answering phone calls, but in the short term, the outlook for desperate disabled people is very grim.”

The council funds several other Possability People services, and contributes about £6,000 towards the advice centre.

A council spokesperson said: “We are keen to speak to Possability People as soon as possible about how the funding we have given them towards the advice service could be utilised in the future.”

But he confirmed that the council “will not be providing replacement funding for the money the CCG has withdrawn”.

Calls on the CCG to reverse its decision have been backed by two local MPs, the Green party’s Caroline Lucas, and Labour’s Lloyd Russell-Moyle.

Lucas said: “Possability People’s advice centre is a vital service that has supported many of my constituents to successfully challenge incorrect disability benefit decisions, and helped them to get the support they need.

For NHS commissioners to pretend that there isn’t a link between health and wellbeing, and accessing timely disability benefits advice when people are in crisis and struggling to cope, is hugely short-sighted and counterproductive, as I have made clear to the CCG. 

I struggle to believe that other advice agencies in the city have the capacity to fill the gap left by the closure of Possability People’s advice service.”

Russell-Moyle said: I am shocked by the CCG’s handling of this matter, giving only a few weeks notice on a decision which will affect hundreds of my constituents.

There are no other services in the city able to meet the needs of our disabled and vulnerable residents and I fully support the calls for the CCG to reverse this unconscionable decision.”

A spokesperson for Brighton and Hove CCG said: “Over 80 per cent of contacts for this service are related to benefits help and Brighton and Hove has a wide range of other community and voluntary sector services that support people with these needs.

There are also a number of both local and national services that offer benefits advice and help in accessible ways.

With this in mind, we took the difficult decision to reinvest the money that would have been spent for this service into other services that will bring direct benefits to more people’s health needs. 

This was not a decision we took lightly but we feel it is necessary to ensure we are able to continue to use public money in the most effective way and do not spend more money than we have available.”

*Possability People is a DNS subscriber

28 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:50
Mar 212019
 

Disabled people ‘must keep fighting for their right to travel on public transport’

Disabled people must keep fighting for their right to travel on public transport, and should “challenge the status quo”, an accessible transport campaigner has told a conference.

Alan Benson, chair of the user-led, pan-London organisation Transport for All, told Transport for London’s Access All Areas conference that the pace of access improvements to the capital’s public transport system had slowed since the “watershed” of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Benson, a wheelchair-user, said that in the last week he had missed a train because of slow assistance from rail staff, missed buses because the wheelchair spaces were full, and had been stuck at Bank tube station because the lift broke.

But he also told the accessible transport conference that in the last week he had travelled successfully to 10 locations across the city using public transport run or managed by Transport for London (TfL).

Among improvements made by TfL, he highlighted the Please Offer Me A Seat scheme, which provides disabled people with a badge to let other passengers know they need a seat.

But he said he believed its most “transformative” scheme was a training programme provided to TfL managers by Transport for All (TfA) and Inclusion London, another pan-London user-led organisation.

He said: “Disabled people, many of whom are here today, are teaching the people who commission and run the services just what impact their choices have.

The results are transformative, both now and for the future. No-one else in the British transport sector is doing this.”

He told the conference: “Public transport is vital for disabled and older people to contribute to society, but most importantly we know that access to public transport is our right.

Don’t give up. We are where we are today because, to quote Newton, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We are those shoulders for those that come after us.

But mostly don’t give up because you have rights, the right to live the life you want to. And when your journey does go wrong, tell TfL. They do listen.”

He also said that passengers and transport operators should “challenge the status quo” so as to produce new ideas and “turn conventional thinking on its head”.

Benson said the transport industry needed to take more risks and not be so “resistant to change”, and he suggested that TfL should allow disabled passengers who were happy to take such risks to do so.

He said: “I know, for example, that there are some wheelchair-users who are perfectly comfortable using an escalator and I know of one who regularly does it, but it is definitely not widely known or it’s not [something] that staff are very comfortable supporting.”

Gareth Powell, TfL’s managing director of surface transport, told the conference that 84 per cent of disabled Londoners “say transport is affecting their ability to get around and live their lives”, which he said was “not good enough”.

He said: “We want to try harder and listen to what suggestions you have and make that better.”

Powell admitted that there were too many examples of TfL infrastructure projects that, even if they provided step-free access, still failed to be fully inclusive, for example by ignoring the access needs of autistic people.

He welcomed the TfA and Inclusion London training programme and said: “I have colleagues in design teams right across TfL who are being trained in how to design projects better so that right at the start of these projects we make them as inclusive as possible and see that all the way through to the end of those projects.”

But he warned that there were significant “challenges” with funding, with TfL “struggling to get our voice heard with central government”.

He said TfL had had its annual operational grant from the government cut from £700 million to zero, while there was no long-term certainty over funding for capital investment.

Powell said the government’s imminent three-year spending review would be “a critical moment for us to make sure that all of our infrastructure needs are on their agenda”.

TfL says 95 per cent of its bus stops are now accessible, while there are more than 200 step-free stations across its network, including 78 London Underground (LU) stations, 58 overground stations, six TfL-run rail stations and all Docklands Light Railway stations and tram stops.

Eight more LU stations are set to be step-free by March 2020, with work underway at a further seven.

The Access All Areas event also included workshops and an exhibition of accessibility innovations, including an electric bus and taxi, a driverless car, and a new Station Real Time Information App.

The app allows LU station staff to report station incidents that may affect passenger journeys, such as a lift going out of service, and also allows LU staff to record disabled passengers who wish to use TfL’s Turn Up and Go service, which provides assistance to disabled passengers who have not booked help in advance.

21 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:11
Mar 212019
 

Shared space schemes must be halted, mayor’s commissioner told

A disabled campaigner has told London’s walking and cycling commissioner that all shared space street developments should be halted because they are too dangerous for disabled and older people.

Dr Tom Pey, chief executive of the Royal Society for Blind Children and a leading opponent of shared space developments, said such schemes were based on “flawed” principles and caused a minority of drivers to become “more angry and reckless”.

He said: “Why would we want… reckless drivers driving around in places where there are no footpaths?”

Shared space schemes often remove kerbs and controlled crossings from a street, encouraging vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists to share the same space, posing greater risks for partially-sighted and blind people, as well as other disabled people, including many of those who are neuro-diverse, or have mobility impairments, learning difficulties or are deaf.

Pey was speaking at the Access All Areas event on accessible transport, organised by Transport for London (TfL), and was sharing a stage with the mayor of London’s walking and cycling commissioner, Dr Will Norman.

Norman stressed that the priorities of the mayor’s transport strategy for the capital’s roads were the needs and safety of pedestrians, cyclists, users of mobility aids and public transport, and a key target was to reduce unnecessary car journeys.

But he repeatedly declined to comment on the mayor’s policy on shared spaces.

Pey said Norman should not try to “conflate” the issue of encouraging pedestrians and cyclists with shared spaces.

He said it was a “research fact” that shared spaces created a less safe environment.

He said: “Shared space started in Holland, in continental Europe, where they are [now] being abandoned because they do not work for disabled people.

Research shows that where there is a shared space, disabled people just don’t go there anymore because it isn’t safe.”

Norman said cities like London “always need new solutions” and new types of infrastructure.

He said: “Do we always get them right all the time? No. Will we sit down and work with people? Yes, and we’ve got a track record of doing that.”

But Norman then gave an example of how TfL had installed zebra crossings across bus stop bypass schemes – where the bus stop is placed on an island, with pedestrians forced to cross a cycle lane to reach it – a solution heavily criticised last month by National Federation of the Blind of the UK.

In January, NFB UK filmed a succession of cyclists riding through a zebra crossing introduced as part of a bus stop bypass scheme in Manchester, even though a blind man with a white cane was waiting with his cane on the crossing.

Pey told Norman: “I don’t want to sound hyper-critical of TfL but I think what would be really helpful would be if we took this shared space, a bit like a No Deal Brexit, if we took it off the table and then everybody can sit down and sign up… to a city that is safer.

It’s not just disabled people who find it difficult to navigate in London, it’s older people, it’s visitors, it’s lots of people, and we have got to find an integrated solution for this.

We all have to learn how to do things differently, including the regulators of this city.”

TfL had not responded by noon today (Thursday) to a request from Disability News Service for clarification on its policy on shared space developments.

But it says 95 per cent of its bus stops are now accessible, while there are more than 200 step-free stations across its network, including 78 London Underground (LU) stations, 58 overground stations, six TfL-run rail stations and all Docklands Light Railway stations and tram stops.

Eight more underground stations are set to be step-free by March 2020, with work underway at a further seven.

The Access All Areas event also included workshops and an exhibition of accessibility innovations, including an electric bus and taxi, a driverless car, and a new Station Real Time Information App.

The app allows LU station staff to report station incidents that may affect passenger journeys, such as a lift going out of service, and also allows LU staff to record disabled passengers who wish to use TfL’s Turn Up and Go service, which provides assistance to disabled passengers who have not booked help in advance.

21 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:11
Mar 212019
 

Disabled young people have been cheated by support reforms, MPs hear

Disabled young people have told MPs how they have been “cheated” by the government’s new system for supporting pupils and students through school and college.

MPs on the Commons education committee heard how disabled pupils were being denied a voice in drawing up their education, health and care plans (EHCPs), and how they were not receiving what had been promised in those plans.

The committee also heard that EHCPs were too focused on education, rather than being “life focused”.

The committee heard from seven disabled young people on Tuesday as part of its inquiry into the impact of the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reforms introduced by the government through its Children and Families Act 2014*.

Three of them – Jordan, Ben and Eva – were part of the RIP: STARS research team, a project led by disabled young people and researchers at Coventry University, which also included support from The Alliance for Inclusive Education, and looked at the quality of EHCPs and whether they met disabled children and young people’s rights.

Jordan said some of their findings had been “stunning”, and that he and many other disabled young people “feel we were cheated out of the education system and treated poorly by them”.

He said they made the “atrocious” discovery that disabled children “weren’t actually being involved in the process of their EHCPs”, with the main discussions taking place “without talking to the child themselves”.

He said plans were “either being delayed, mistaken, poorly done and they are not meeting the needs of the child”, and he called for something to be done to ensure that plans “are being carried out correctly by staff” and “not just ignored and forgotten”.

Eva, another member of RIP: STARS, said: “We found out that what was written in the plan was not being followed through, so many children aren’t receiving the support and the correct education that they need and they are missing out on their education and childhood.”

She said the plans were not preparing disabled children and young people for independence and adulthood.

Eva said the plans should use the language of the social model of disability “so children are not defined by labels and they are not seen as a problem”.

She added: “Disabled children have a right to mainstream education, so they should achieve support to achieve this and be in mainstream education if they choose to do so.”

Ben, a third disabled young person from RIP: STARS, said EHCPs were “too educational focused and not life focused, so children are not receiving the support they need in other important areas such as developing independence, having choice and control, achieving aspirations, life goals, friends, access in the community.”

He said it was not right that disabled pupils who do not fit in with the “norms and roles and rules of education” were often “shipped off, excluded, offloaded, or hidden in other places” and “forgotten about”.

Francesca, one of two deaf pupils on the National Deaf Children’s Society’s (NDCS) young people’s advisory board who gave evidence, told the committee that a lack of support at school meant she missed out on social situations and on learning “how to be confident and empowered”.

She said she had even been encouraged to use a separate “SEND room” at lunch, which also made it harder to build friendships with non-disabled pupils.

She said: “It’s showing to the other students that these people need to be kept separate, which I feel is the wrong attitude completely.

It should be about inclusivity and empowering those people.”

Francesca said that meetings about EHCPs sometimes happened without the disabled young person being present.

She said: “It’s really frustrating because you feel you can make your own decisions because it is your own support.”

Another member of the NDCS advisory board, Ella, said she was “really struggling” to secure the support she needed through the EHCP process, with the local council currently refusing to provide her with a plan because it did not think she was deaf enough.

As a result, she said, her grades were “far below what they should be”.

And she said the only people the council would listen to were her parents, and not her.

Simran, who is studying accountancy and management at Queen Mary University of London and was with the charity my AFK, said: “As a disabled woman, I have to work harder than everyone else to achieve anything.

I think it’s a great shame that young people with SEND are left unsupported and their achievements are unappreciated.

I’m a 21-year-old studying accountancy and I want to be an accountant, I want to work, I want to contribute to the economy and society, but I feel like there’s not very many opportunities for me to do so.”

Kashifa, who is studying at college and was also with my AFK, said she had received “a lot more support” when she was at school.

She said: “Even though we had meetings about me going to college, I’m not sure they really understood my needs when I got there.

I think people make a judgement about what you’re capable of based on your appearance.

I know people mean well and they know you get anxious in certain situations, and they want to try to protect you, but this just means you won’t be able to try anything because people think you won’t be able to cope, so the opportunities stop.”

She added: “I don’t need people to tell me I need to be realistic, either.

I want to work things out for myself and then be able to make the choice.

I don’t need to be protected all the time, I just need the chance to try different things and then I can decide.”

*Under government reforms which came into effect in September 2014, local authorities in England had until April 2018 to move all disabled children and young people eligible for support from SEN statements to new EHCPs. The plans last from birth to the age of 25 and set out all the support they should receive across education, health and social care.

21 March 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:10
Mar 212019
 

Domestic violence services even worse 10 years on, says report

Regressive government policies have disproportionately affected the ability of disabled women who have experienced violence and abuse to access the services they need, according to a new report.

Shaping Our Lives (SOL), which has written the report, says some services have been discriminating against disabled women under the Equality Act because of a lack of knowledge and training, and a “pitiful” lack of accessible buildings.

It says that these failures are a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The report, A Refuge for All, was published this week after two years of research led by disabled women with experience of violence and abuse.

It compares the situation with the findings of the Making the Links report published 10 years ago by Women’s Aid, which found that although disabled women were twice as likely to experience domestic violence and abuse as non-disabled women, they faced significant barriers in accessing services.

SOL’s report concludes that little has changed in the last 10 years and in some cases provision has worsened.

Because of cuts to services, disabled women have often not been able to secure local support, and they have faced lengthy waiting-times and have had to travel long distances to secure support.

Just as there was 10 years ago, there is a lack of accessible information; refuges and other buildings providing services are still inaccessible; and there is still a lack of knowledge and understanding by professionals.

Disabled women also still face the risk of having their children removed by social services if they escape an abusive or violent partner.

Research suggests that the number of disabled women experiencing violence and abuse has been increasing, says the report, while disabled victims of domestic abuse “suffer more severe and frequent abuse over longer periods of time than non-disabled victims”.

The project worked in two areas, Bexley in south-east London, and Birmingham, to examine how local services could be made more inclusive for disabled women.

The report concludes: “The pilot site interventions demonstrate that training and advice from disabled women and user-led organisations can have an enormous impact on services’ readiness to work confidently with disabled women and that a number of small inexpensive adaptations can improve the accessibility of the service delivery.”

SOL’s Becki Meakin, the project manager and author of the report, said: “It was very worrying to hear about the experiences of disabled women seeking support from violence and abuse.

I expected to see progress in the last 10 years, but instead access to services has worsened and sometimes was non-existent in a woman’s local area.”

She added: “The regressive funding policies for violence and abuse services has reduced provision for all women, but it has disproportionately affected access for disabled women who in turn are almost three times more likely to experience violence and abuse.”

The report was funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Tampon Tax Fund.

Among its recommendations for improvements, the report calls for a central resource of information for disabled women; investment in more accessible refuge spaces; disability equality training for staff; access action plans for each service; and co-production of services with disabled women.

Meakin said: “I believe that only by listening to and working equally with disabled women experiencing violence and abuse will we be able to increase their sense of self-worth and remove the practical, prejudicial and systemic barriers that exclude them from using violence and abuse services.”

The project has also published a toolkit which can be used by services to assess themselves against best practice and devise a plan of action for improvement, often at low cost.

Ashley Stephen, co-founder of Disabled Survivors Unite, who helped with the project, said: “This project is vitally important and showcases the unique barriers that disabled women face in accessing domestic abuse services.

One disabled woman being turned away due to an inaccessible refuge is too many.”

Disability Labour also said the report was of vital importance.

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, said: “As someone who is a survivor of domestic violence, I know how inaccessible refuges can be.

It is important that women fleeing domestic violence have a safe space, not only in terms of physical and emotional safety, but also that it meets their accessibility needs.

We know that domestic violence services are receiving far less money than they need to be able to provide these crucial services, which undoubtedly save lives.

We would encourage councils to ringfence such funding and look to supporting refuges to enable much-needed adaptations to be made.”

21 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 16:07
Mar 212019
 

Still no replacement for Newton, seven days after resignation

The government has given no indication of when – or even if – it intends to appoint a replacement for the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, who resigned last week over Brexit.

Nearly a week after Newton’s resignation, no replacement has been announced.

A spokesperson for Number 10 said yesterday (Wednesday): “As soon as there is one, we would announce it in the usual way.

I haven’t got any guidance on when that appointment will be.”

As the appointment of a new minister will be a political decision, he suggested that Disability News Service (DNS) contact the prime minister’s press secretary, Paul Harrison, but he had not responded by noon today (Thursday).

Newton was the seventh Conservative minister for disabled people since the 2010 general election, following Maria Miller, Esther McVey, Mike Penning, Mark Harper, Justin Tomlinson and Penny Mordaunt.

Only last month, she was forced to apologise to MPs after DNS caught her misleading MPs about support for disabled people for the fourth time in less than a year.

In December, Newton was unable to explain why she had failed to make any public statement to support disabled people’s battle for rights on the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

It was the second year in a row – following her appointment in November 2017 – that she had demonstrated a lack of interest in domestic and international efforts to further disabled people’s rights on the UN day.

And in October, she appeared to breach the ministerial code of conduct after refusing to answer questions from DNS at her party’s annual conference and then suggesting that civil servants could answer them for her instead, even though it was a political event.

21 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:07
Mar 212019
 

Autistic campaigners to protest outside charity over regime of care home abuse

Autistic campaigners are to protest outside the headquarters of a national autism charity next week to highlight what they say is its abhorrent failure to act on a regime of abuse that took place at one of its care homes.

The protest in London on 29 March by two autistic-led organisations – Autistic Inclusive Meets and Autistic UK – will highlight the lack of justice for those abused at Mendip House, in Highbridge, Somerset.

Official reports show the National Autistic Society (NAS) failed to share the results of internal investigations into Mendip House with Somerset County Council or the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

But there is also anger that CQC decided earlier this month not to prosecute the charity, and instead fined it just £4,000 for financial abuse by staff, despite the regime of “taunting, mistreatment and humiliation of residents”.

After a whistleblower came forward three years ago, a council investigation revealed [PDF] widespread abuse at the home.

CQC had failed to uncover and halt the abuse through its inspection regime, and had not inspected the home for more than two years by the time it was contacted by the whistleblower.

It then carried out an urgent inspection in May 2016 and began civil enforcement action to close Mendip House.

A council investigation discovered that staff had thrown cake at autistic service-users, taunted them with food, and used their money to pay for staff meals on outings, with nearly £10,000 later having to be repaid.

One resident was sent to his room because he refused to eat an onion, another was made to crawl on the floor on all fours, and a resident “absconded” from the home without staff realising.

Medication went missing, and one resident was said to be “known to flinch in the presence of particular employees”.

Newspaper reports also suggest that one resident was “slapped, forced to eat chillies and repeatedly thrown into a swimming pool”.

One report suggests that one service-user was forced to eat a pizza covered in mustard, and yogurt mixed with mustard, and when they were sick, had to drink their vomit in a glass of water.

An audit by NAS in October 2015 identified “43 areas for improvement”, but the charity failed to report this to CQC.

And although five members of staff – including the manager and deputy manager – were sacked, and Mendip House was closed in August 2016 before CQC could take any further regulatory action, concerns have also been raised about six other services on NAS’s large Somerset Court site, which remain open.

A safeguarding review commissioned by the council revealed that “critical information” about the wider Somerset Court site, including “poor staff conduct, alleged assaults and drug use or sale”, had not been shared beyond senior managers at Somerset Court, who took no action.

The council’s own inquiry concluded that NAS was “a large provider where the risks of them not investigating and managing safeguarding incidents effectively in their services remains high”.

It also highlighted concerns about the charity’s “staff recruitment, incident reporting, decision-making, disciplinary procedures and the attitude of the senior management”.

Emma Dalmayne, chief executive of AIM, said CQC’s decision to fine NAS only £4,000, and not to prosecute the charity, was “disgusting”.

She said: “We need to say this can’t happen again. We can’t take this lying down, we can’t just say nothing.”

She added: “I can’t understand as an autistic adult, as an owner of an autistic organisation, how this could happen.

There’s no justice for the victims, no justice for their families.

The NAS is worth millions, £4,000 is what it costs approximately to keep someone of highly complex needs in care for two weeks and that’s all they were fined, that’s all they were worth: £4,000. I’m devastated.”

Errol Kerr, chair of Autistic UK, said: “The entire situation surrounding Mendip House is abhorrent.

Not only have the NAS attempted to suppress knowledge about the abuse, but they have refused to take moral responsibility even in the face of a CQC investigation.

What is worse, however, is that the body that is supposed to enforce codes of good practice, the CQC, has let us down on every level.

Ruling that a fine of £4,000 was all that was needed in this situation clearly shows that the CQC has no regard for the years of inflicted trauma, manipulation and exploitation of at-risk, vulnerable autistic people.”

He said it was “of paramount importance” to defend the autistic people who were affected.

NAS apologised for the abuse, which it said was “appalling”, and the failure of local managers to take action when abuse was reported to them.

An NAS spokesperson said the charity “should not have allowed this mistreatment and abuse to happen” and that it had introduced a “range of improvements” since 2016.

He said it was still running the other services at Somerset Court because “there is a need”.

Asked how NAS could speak on behalf of autistic people on rights issues after what had happened, he said: “We will never stop campaigning with and for autistic people and their families.

We don’t believe that withdrawing from active campaigning would benefit anyone.”

Asked whether its long-serving chief executive, Mark Lever, should consider his own position, the spokesperson said he had already announced – last month – that he would be leaving the charity.

The spokesperson added: “We want to make sure that any protest runs as smoothly as possible and are of course ready to cooperate in any way we can.

As at last year’s protest, we will be ready to hear their concerns and welcome the opportunity to discuss the changes we’ve made to our systems and practices since 2016.”

CQC has declined to say whether its failure to inspect Mendip House for more than two years before the whistleblower came forward had helped the abusers avoid exposure.

It has also declined to say why it allowed the other Somerset Court services to stay open and why it failed to expose the abusive regime through its regular inspection process, rather than having to be alerted by a whistle-blower.

But Debbie Westhead, CQC’s interim chief inspector of adult social care, said in a statement: “The people who lived in Mendip House were very badly failed by those whose responsibility it was to care for them.

When CQC inspected in May 2016 we rated Mendip House as inadequate, and began action to cancel the registration of Mendip House.

This action was overtaken by the National Autistic Society decision to close the service; a decision that we supported.

We also investigated whether we could prosecute the National Autistic Society for failing to keep people safe, but were not able to do so due to insufficient evidence.

The descriptions of abuse at Mendip House are extremely distressing and the final decision not to proceed with the prosecution was a complex and difficult one.

Separately, the police explored the possibility of criminal prosecutions against individuals but were also unable to proceed due to lack of corroborating evidence.

The action that we were able to take was a fixed penalty notice against the provider for failing to protect people from financial abuse, resulting in a fine of £4,000, which is the maximum amount allowed in law.”

21 March 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:06
Mar 212019
 

CQC admits one in five social care services have not been inspected in two years

Nearly 5,000 adult social care services – nearly one in five – have not had an inspection by the care regulator in the last two years, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) have revealed.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) figures have raised fresh doubts as to whether the regulator is fit for purpose, while Labour’s shadow social care minister has said they are “highly concerning”.

The figures were released to Disability News Service days after the latest revelations concerning a care home run by the National Autistic Society, where autistic people were taunted, abused and ill-treated by staff.

Mendip House, in Somerset, had itself not been inspected by CQC for more than two years when whistleblowers came forward and exposed the abusive regime in 2016 (see separate story).

The new FoIA figures show that 4,859 adult social care services have not been inspected by CQC in more than two years, out of 25,590 services in total (19 per cent).

Many of the 25,590 are new services that are still awaiting a first CQC rating, so the proportion of services that have been open for at least two years and have not been inspected for at least two years will be even higher than 19 per cent.

But the figures also reveal other concerns about the commission and its work.

They show striking falls in the number of inspections carried out by the watchdog over the last couple of years; a significant increase in the number of inspections cancelled or rescheduled; and a sizeable drop over the last three years in the number of adult social care inspectors working for CQC.

A CQC spokesperson said that some of this was due to a new method of regulation, adopted in 2014, which was based on “ratings and risk”.

She claimed the commission was now “even better at identifying risk, meaning that we can prioritise our activity to where the need is greatest”.

The FoIA response showed the number of CQC’s “full-time equivalent” adult social care inspectors fell from 881 in December 2015 to 812 in December 2018.

The number of adult social care inspections that were cancelled or rescheduled rose from 6,498 in 2017 to 8,296 in 2018.

And the number of adult social care inspections carried out by CQC fell from 15,271 in 2016 to 13,106 in 2017, and again to 11,618 in 2018.

Statistics provided by the regulator to its latest public board meeting (PDF) in February raise further concerns.

They show that only three-fifths of planned inspections of adult social care services that had been branded “inadequate” or “requiring improvement” were carried out on time.

Barbara Keeley, Labour’s shadow minister for social care, said: “It is highly concerning that nearly one in five social care establishments have not been inspected for over two years.

We saw in the recent Mendip House case how quickly a care home can deteriorate – often in a matter of months.

As government cuts to social care budgets force providers to cut corners, infrequent inspections are putting disabled and older people at risk.

We cannot allow providers to provide poor quality care due to a lack of oversight: that is why Labour’s plans for ethical commissioning would require local authorities and the CQC to better monitor care providers.”

CQC said that its decision to inspect services seen as good or outstanding only every 30 months helped explain a “significant” number of re-scheduled inspections, and many of the services that had not been inspected in more than two years.

By February 2017, it said, it had finished inspecting all adult social care services registered with CQC in October 2014 and had then moved to the next phase of its new ratings- and risk-based model of regulation, with “increased focus on using information and intelligence to form a better picture of what is happening in the delivery of people’s care to assess and prioritise risk”.

It also said it had introduced new roles to “complement the inspection workforce”, such as assistant inspectors.

CQC has so far failed to say if it believes the figures show it is a failing organisation; whether it needs an injection of funding; and whether it is putting the safety of disabled and older people at risk and is therefore likely to be exposing them to serious breaches of their human rights.

It has also failed to say whether the Mendip House abuse scandal showed that its risk-based system was putting the safety of disabled people at risk, and that it therefore needed to introduce annual, unannounced inspections of all adult social care services.

But it did say: “CQC has a healthy budget, a strong and hardworking workforce and we continually review all of the resources at our disposal in order to be as efficient as possible in ensuring care providers are living up to their legal responsibilities.”

Debbie Westhead, CQC’s interim chief inspector for adult social care, said in a statement: “In 2014 we completely overhauled the way we regulate adult social care, moving to a ratings and risk based model.

We are now even better at identifying risk, meaning that we can prioritise our activity to where the need is greatest.

We know from our latest State of Care report that most people are getting good care; over four-fifths of adult social care services are rated as good or outstanding, a testimony to the hard work of thousands of frontline staff.

In 2018 we moved the frequency of inspections for good and outstanding services to 30 months.

However, if during this time we get any information of concern we will prioritise our activity to ensure that we are protecting people from risk.

We are now taking more enforcement action than ever before because we are using the information and analysis at our disposal more effectively in order to target our inspection activities to those services where there is the greatest risk to the quality and safety of people’s care.

Since April 2017 to January 2019 we’ve taken around 2,000 enforcement actions against all adult social care providers and we will continue to take action wherever necessary to make sure that all people are getting the good, quality care they need.”

21 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 16:05
Mar 212019
 

Jodey Whiting petition: DWP ‘has blood on its hands’, says Green party

Labour and the Green party have backed a petition that calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the failings of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and an investigation into potential criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants.

The Green party co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, himself the father of a disabled son, said this week that DWP had “blood on its hands”.

Less than a week after the launch of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition* last Friday (15 March), more than 6,000 people have already signed it.

It needs to reach 100,000 signatures by 15 September to be eligible for debate by MPs in the House of Commons.

Among those who have supported it are the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson and the disabled comedian and writer Francesca Martinez.

The petition now has the support of the relatives of seven disabled people whose deaths are linked to DWP failings.

Since last week, the daughter of Susan Roberts has backed the petition (see separate story), telling Disability News Service (DNS) that she would feel a sense of “justice” if she saw former DWP ministers facing charges in a criminal court.

The petition was launched following the death of Jodey Whiting and is set up in her name, with the backing of Black TriangleDisabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) and WOWcampaign, as well as DNS.

DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her suicide in February 2017, an independent investigation found last month.

Whiting, who had a long history of mental distress, had had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment when she was seriously ill and took her own life just 15 days later.

As well as an inquiry, the petition says that evidence of misconduct by civil servants and ministers should be handed to police for a possible criminal investigation into misconduct in public office.

It also says that DWP should be branded “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose” and calls for urgent steps to ensure that the safety of all benefit claimants is a priority for the department.

Two years ago, the Green party issued its own call for an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions.

A letter sent in February 2017 to the then work and pensions secretary Damian Green, co-signed by Bartley, said: “The more time passes without an inquiry, the longer concerns will remain and questions will hang over the procedures used by your department to handle benefits.”

The party compiled a dossier of 50 deaths of benefit claimants where the party said it had “good reason to believe” their treatment at the hands of DWP had been a factor in their deaths.

This week, Bartley told DNS: “The DWP clearly has blood on its hands.

The evidence of the department’s failings is now overwhelming and there must be an independent inquiry with those responsible held to account. 

This should include turning over the findings to the police for criminal charges to be brought, where appropriate.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, also said this week that the campaign and petition had her “full support”.

Asked to comment on the petition, a DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants and, in the tragic case where someone dies, ensuring that we respond swiftly and sensitively.

We have changed guidance so that our staff update a claim where someone has died within 48 hours, making sure we stop all unnecessary contact as quickly as possible.

And we have robust safeguarding in place to protect and support vulnerable people, including the resource to carry out safeguarding visits.”

*If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

21 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 16:04
Mar 212019
 

Jodey Whiting petition: Seventh family demands justice over DWP benefit deaths

The disabled daughter of a woman who took her own life after losing her disability benefits has explained why she believes ministers and senior civil servants should face prosecution for the deaths they have caused.

Hayley Storrow-Servranckx spoke out this week to back a new parliamentary petition that calls for an inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and for that inquiry to pass any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants to the police.

The petition – Justice for Jodey Whiting. Independent inquiry into deaths linked to the DWP* – brands DWP “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose” and demands urgent action to make the safety of all benefit claimants a priority.

Within five days, the petition had secured more than 6,000 signatures. It needs to reach 100,000 within six months to be eligible for a debate in parliament.

The relatives of Susan Roberts this week became the seventh family to back the petition, in addition to support from four grassroots groups of disabled activists – Black TriangleDisabled People Against CutsMental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign – and DNS.

Storrow-Servranckx told DNS that she would feel a sense of “justice” if she saw former DWP ministers facing charges in a criminal court.

She said: “It would be some form of justice for those people who are not here anymore and have not got a voice.

That’s all we have ever wanted, the families, we just want justice, because without [DWP’s actions] our family members would still be here, no question about it.

To have somebody in front of a judge and jury and to be sentenced for crimes that made somebody kill themselves is exactly what needs to be done and needed to be done a long time ago.”

Storrow-Servranckx said she believed there should be a police investigation just as there would be if she was responsible for causing someone’s death by suicide.

The body of her mother was discovered in May 2016 by a care worker at her warden-assisted flat near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, the day after she had received a letter saying her appeal against losing her personal independence payment (PIP) had been turned down.

An inquest into the 68-year-old’s death did not record a verdict of suicide, but her daughter is convinced that she took her own life, because of the way she died, and because her body was discovered surrounded by her PIP paperwork and a “do not resuscitate” notice.

She had previously received an indefinite award of disability living allowance, at the higher rate of mobility and the low rate of care, but she was told she was not entitled to PIP.

DWP had taken just six days to reject her mandatory reconsideration, before she had even had a chance to send a letter explaining why she disagreed with the initial decision, with a civil servant telling her that “it was not felt any further evidence we received would change the findings based on your assessment”.

In her letter, which she left beside her body, she described the impact of ME on her daily life, which she said provided a window of just two or three hours every day in which she was free of symptoms such as exhaustion, dizziness and inability to concentrate.

She said she had chronic, progressive ischaemic heart disease, and was experiencing “excruciating pain” from a gall bladder that could not be removed because of her heart condition.

Her letter also described how a care worker visited her every day to provide painful rectal irrigation and then give her a shower, how she was deeply depressed and had been so “for a long time”, and that her doctor knew that she wanted to die.

She did not attend her tribunal appeal, which was decided only on written documents and again found her ineligible for PIP.

DWP has previously insisted that there was “no evidence to suggest any link” between the death of Susan Roberts and her benefit claim, and that neither the department nor Atos – the much-criticised outsourcing company which assessed her – believed they had made any mistakes in her case, pointing out that the tribunal had “upheld the original decision”.

But Storrow-Servranckx said her mum had made it clear in her original PIP claim form that she had suicidal thoughts, and DWP had made no effort to protect her.

She said her mum had written on her PIP form that she had contemplated suicide and had told her doctor how much she wanted to die, but could not take her own life because of her Christian faith.

Storrow-Servranckx, who herself has been assessed for both PIP and employment and support allowance, said the thousands of deaths linked to the actions of DWP had been “swept under the carpet” and needed to be “brought up and discussed in the House of Commons”.

She said: “It’s not just my mum. There are thousands and thousands of other people – including other members of my own family – who are affected.

The benefits system has clearly failed. It is not working. It is dangerous.

They clearly must hold their hands up and say, ‘Our failing system has caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people.’”

She said she now hoped the petition – and the support from the other six families – would encourage other relatives to come forward and speak out.

*If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

21 March 2019

 Posted by at 16:03
Mar 212019
 

DWP’s latest confession on safety: ‘We keep no record of complaints linked to deaths’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing fresh allegations of negligence – potentially criminal – after admitting that it keeps no records of how many of the complaints it receives involve the death of a claimant of disability benefits.

The admission came in response to a freedom of information request from Disability News Service (DNS), which arrived just 24 hours before the launch of a new parliamentary petition* calling for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings.

It adds to mounting evidence that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose and will fuel calls for urgent changes to its policies and administration of benefits to ensure it makes the safety of all claimants a priority, as demanded by the petition.

DNS had asked in the freedom of information request how many of the complaints submitted to the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) about DWP involved a claimant of a disability-related benefit who had died before that complaint was submitted.

The request followed an ICE report into the death of Jodey Whiting, who had a long history of mental distress and took her own life 15 days after her disability benefits were stopped for missing a work capability assessment when she was seriously ill.

The ICE report concluded that DWP had failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her death, and that it had been guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case.

ICE reviews complaints about government departments that deal with benefits, work and financial support, but can only investigate concerns after that department has delivered its own “final response” to a complaint.

Responding to the freedom of information request, DWP said that ICE did not record “the category of information you have requested” because the department itself “uses high level corporate complaint categories to record customer complaints” and these do not include whether a claimant has died.

The only categories DWP offers are: “DWP staff don’t treat me with respect”; “you take too long”; “you’ve got it wrong”; “you haven’t given me the information that suits my needs”; “I can’t access the system”; and “DWP policy is unfair”.

Previous freedom of information admissions by DWP have shown that it has carried out scores of secret peer reviews (later renamed internal process reviews) into the deaths of benefit claimants.

And government-funded research concluded three years ago that DWP’s programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the work capability assessment was linked to 590 suicides in just three years.

DWP had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).

DNS had asked whether DWP agreed that it was seriously negligent to fail to analyse how many complaints it was receiving in which a claimant had died, particularly those linked to the non-payment or withdrawal of vital benefits.

DNS had also asked how DWP would be able to respond to serious flaws in the system that were leading to loss of life if it did not know how many such complaints were being received about various aspects of its service.

And DNS asked whether Joanna Wallace, the independent case examiner, had any concerns about the failure to record this category of information.

*If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

21 March 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:00
Mar 152019
 

Relatives of six disabled people who died due to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failings have backed a new petition to MPs that calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the department’s actions.

The petition – backed by four leading grassroots groups of disabled activists, and Disability News Service (DNS) – says such an inquiry should also investigate potential misconduct by ministers and civil servants.

And it says that any evidence of misconduct contributing to serious harm or deaths of benefit claimants should be passed to the police for a possible criminal investigation.

The petition* – Justice for Jodey Whiting. Independent inquiry into deaths linked to the DWP – brands DWP “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose”.

And it calls on DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.

The petition has been set up on parliament’s petitions website.

If it reaches 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate by MPs in the House of Commons.

The petition was launched following the death of Jodey Whiting and is set up in her name, with the backing of Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), WOWcampaign and DNS.

DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to Jodey Whiting’s suicide in February 2017, an independent investigation found last month.

She had had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA) and took her own life just 15 days later.

The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) concluded that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case.

Her case was mentioned in this week’s prime minister’s questions, after a question from her mother’s MP, Dr Paul Williams.

Her mother, Joy Dove, is supporting the petition.

She said she hoped the ICE findings would “open the floodgates for everyone to stand up and get this issue sorted through parliament”.

Relatives of other families who have lost loved ones as a result of DWP failings are also backing the petition.

Peter Carré, whose son Stephen took his own life in January 2010 after being found fit for work following a WCA – with DWP failing to ask his GP or psychiatrist for further medical evidence that would have proved his eligibility – has backed the petition and the need for a criminal investigation and an independent inquiry.

His son’s death led to a coroner writing to DWP, just before the 2010 general election, warning that the “trigger” for Stephen’s decision to take his own life had been the decision to find him fit for work, and telling DWP to take action to prevent any further such deaths.

The coroner called for a review by DWP of “the decision not to seek medical advice from the claimant’s own GP or psychiatrist” if they have a mental health condition.

Tory ministers failed to act on the coroner’s letter – or to produce a proper reply, despite their legal duty to do so – and instead pushed ahead with plans to reassess hundreds of thousands of people on old-style incapacity benefit through the WCA.

Research would later show that this use of the WCA to reassess claimants of incapacity benefit was “associated with” hundreds of suicides.

Carré said he believed the law had “consistently been ignored”, and he added: “Failure to take note of and act on the coroner’s recommendations has undoubtedly resulted in many deaths since that time.”

Eleanor Donnachie, who herself has experienced suicidal thoughts and tried to take her own life as a result of the WCA process, lost her brother Paul to suicide after his employment and support allowance was removed because he failed to turn up for a WCA.

It is believed that DWP failed to contact Paul’s GP to ask for detailed information about his mental health, and – as in Jodey Whiting’s case – ignored its own safeguarding guidance by failing to talk to him face-to-face about his support needs.

She said she wanted to see a criminal investigation and an inquiry.

She said: “It’s as if they can do what they like and nothing applies to them.

If I go anywhere to do with DWP that brings it all back and I can feel myself getting angry, really angry, and I want to shout at them, ‘Look, you have killed my brother and now you’re trying to kill me.’”

Jill Gant, whose son Mark Wood starved to death after he was found “fit for work” and lost his out-of-work disability benefits, said she felt she had to support the petition.

Her key concern is DWP’s refusal to ensure that its decision-makers have access to the necessary medical evidence when someone applying for ESA (or universal credit) has not provided evidence of their own.

She told DNS: “I’m glad you’re doing it on behalf of people like Mark.

It’s very important that something is done. I support the cause and I certainly put my name to it.”

Another relative, David Barr, said he wanted to see former work and pensions ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling held accountable for the death of his son, also called David, who had a long-standing mental health condition.

He took his own life in August 2013 after a physiotherapist took just 35 minutes to carry out a face-to-face assessment that led to him being found fit for work.

It is believed that neither the assessor, nor the DWP decision-maker who rubber-stamped that decision, made any attempt to secure further medical evidence from his GP, his psychiatric nurse or his psychiatrist.

His father said: “It’s got to come to an end. They have got to start looking after people. In this day and age we should be doing more.”

A sixth relative supporting the petition is Gill Thompson.

Her brother, David Clapson, died in July 2013 as a result of an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned.

Because he had no money, he couldn’t afford to pay for electricity that would have kept the fridge where he kept his insulin working, in the height of summer, and he had also run out of food.

She said: “They have to stop this. I would like to see a legal case whether David’s name was mentioned or not.

They have to be held accountable. I can’t change what has happened to me, but this should not be happening.

These are avoidable deaths. I still feel that now as strongly as ever.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said he and fellow campaigners “did our utmost” to persuade the criminal justice system in Scotland to open an investigation into work and pensions ministers but had been given no reason for its refusal to do so.

He said: “It’s clear that the dereliction of duty on the part of ministers is still leading to the deaths of claimants, as we said at the time.

Until this matter is addressed, people will continue to suffer catastrophic avoidable harm.

We call upon the police service to take our allegations seriously and to make a thorough investigation into the facts of the case.”

Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “DPAC fully supports this petition. We believe that these are vital issues that must be debated in parliament.

The reign of terror brought about by this government’s hostile environment towards claimants is causing distress and severe hardship to millions of innocent people, and has resulted in the deaths of too many claimants.”

He added: “The DWP itself is a failing organisation which is chaotic and error-prone in its operation. It is currently not fit for purpose and needs a complete overhaul.”

Denise McKenna, co-founder of MHRN, said: “Survivors of the DWP are acutely aware that some lives do not matter and some institutions are deemed to be above accountability.

Ministers and civil servants responsible for the DWP have known for years that their practices are implicated in numerous deaths yet they continue with the same practices, seemingly safe in the knowledge that they can get away with any level of cruelty and incompetence.

The deaths will only stop if there is rigorous implementation of safeguarding practices which the DWP has shown time and again that it cannot be trusted to put in place or to observe.

MHRN supports this petition; it is surely right that safeguarding is enshrined in DWP practices and that ministers and civil servants are brought to book for the lives they have destroyed, just as anyone else implicated in numerous deaths would be held to account.”  

A WOWcampaign spokesperson said: “WOWcampaign has been fighting for seven years to get this government to show a duty of care to disabled children and adults in the UK by assessing the impact of all disability cuts, as called for by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the UN.

We are keen to support this petition demanding justice for Jodey Whiting as her treatment and the many voices giving testimony to the despair, poverty and humiliation caused by government welfare reforms, published on WOWvoices.uk, reinforce the devastating impact of these policies, and the urgent need for something to change.

We would like to see an independent enquiry into the effect of government welfare policy and a police enquiry into alleged misconduct in public office.

There has to be Justice for Jodey and the countless others whose lives have been devastated by government policy.”

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

*If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the committee

15 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:18
Mar 142019
 

Disabled people had rights breached before and after Grenfell fire, says watchdog

Disabled people who died in the Grenfell Tower tragedy had their human rights breached by public bodies that failed to plan how they would evacuate their homes in the event of a fire, a report by the equality and human rights watchdog has concluded.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report says the safety of wheelchair-users and other disabled and older people was overlooked when they were housed on the top floors of the high-rise building.

It says that disabled people and other residents of Grenfell Tower and other nearby housing experienced a series of breaches of their human rights before the fire, including through the failure to ban the combustible cladding that was wrapped around the building, or at least strengthen rules for its use.

But it also says that disabled people’s rights were repeatedly breached in the days and months after the fire.

Disabled people, children, migrants and older people were among the 72 people who died in the Grenfell Tower fire that began in the early hours of 14 June 2017, in homes managed by the state in west London.

The EHRC research, carried out with the social policy think-tank Race on the Agenda, suggests that the right to life of disabled people, older people and families with children was not properly considered in fire safety arrangements, with “particular concerns” about the lack of appropriate planning for evacuating disabled people and other residents.

There is also evidence that the safety notice given to Grenfell residents was only available in English, a language not spoken by many of them.

The report also highlights a continued lack of support after the fire, amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment, particularly in “the inconsistent, and sometimes absent, immediate and long-term support such as medical treatment, counselling, mental health care and adequate housing”.

The report suggests there were breaches of the right to life; the right to safe, adequate housing; and the right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; while disabled people and other groups also faced discrimination in how they were treated after the tragedy.

The report says: “The fact that people with limited mobility were living high up in Grenfell Tower, and faced greater difficulties escaping the fire, raises important questions about discrimination against certain groups, accessibility standards, and whether authorities assessed the impact on disabled people of allocating housing in Grenfell Tower.”

The report includes a series of examples of how disabled people had their rights breached in the days, weeks and months after the fire.

One disabled woman, who had been left traumatised by losing five members of her family in the fire, had her out-of-work disability benefits cut after being assessed by a government contractor just five days later.

The woman, who lost her brother, his wife, and their three children in the fire, had been assessed for her fitness for work on 19 June 2017, five days after the fire.

Her husband, her full-time carer, told researchers that when they told the healthcare professional carrying out the work capability assessment that she had lost her five relatives in the fire, “she didn’t care” and “didn’t consider the suffering” that his wife had been through.

His wife had previously been in the support group for employment and support allowance, for those not expected to carry out any work-related activity, but after the assessment she was placed by the Department for Work and Pensions in the work-related activity group.

The report’s researchers were told that she had since been told to attend a work training scheme, even though her health had worsened since the fire.

One disabled older person, who lives on the 14th floor of a block of flats near Grenfell Tower, told the researchers that he told his children “every day” that if there was a similar fire to the one that devastated Grenfell, they should leave him to struggle down the stairs on his own.

He said: “There are five floors above me… So, if I go down and I stop in the middle, the people behind me will not be able to pass. So, we discussed all these issues.”

The report found that none of the local residents they had spoken to who had been forced to leave their homes after the fire had accepted permanent accommodation, but some said they had felt pressured to return home or take unsuitable offers.

One wheelchair-user was pressured to accept the offer of a permanent flat, even though it was not wheelchair-accessible and she could not access some of the rooms.

She was told: “Oh don’t worry, we’ll get a carer in to look after you, help you out with the kids.”

She was then told that if she did not agree to move into the flat, she would be viewed as making herself intentionally homeless.

The report also describes a wheelchair-user with young children – believed to be the same woman – who was left in emergency housing with just one room and no cooking facilities and had to visit the local swimming pool if she wanted a shower.

The report, Grenfell Residents’ Access to Public Services and Support – part of the commission’s Following Grenfell project – describes the lived experience of people who had been “displaced, traumatised and distressed” by the fire.

It shows the “ongoing difficulties and uncertainty they have faced in accessing a range of advice and support services such as housing, immigration, welfare support and healthcare”.

Among its conclusions, the report says: “There was poor recognition of additional needs and reasonable adjustments when making housing decisions, particularly for disabled people, older people, women and Muslim families.

Residents described the dire state of both emergency and temporary accommodation when being rehoused, posing a threat to their physical and mental health.”

EHRC’s Following Grenfell project aims to influence the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, other public bodies and the public about the equality and human rights issues raised by the fire and its aftermath.

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “Everyone has the right to life and the right to safe, adequate housing, but the residents of Grenfell Tower were tragically let down by public bodies that had a duty to protect them.

It is our hope that the Grenfell Inquiry finds this information relevant and useful as they continue with their work, but we also need to see action taken by public bodies so we never see a repeat of this tragedy.”

14 March 2019

 

 

NHS call for government action on link between mental distress and benefit cuts

The organisation representing NHS service-providers has called on the government to act on the links between mental distress and cuts to benefits, after producing new evidence showing that social security reform has increased demand for mental health services.

NHS Providers spoke out after publishing research showing that more than nine out of ten (92 per cent) mental health trusts that took part in a survey said changes to benefits were increasing demand for mental health services.

And more than six in 10 (63 per cent) said this impact was high, making it the most significant economic and social factor in increasing demand for mental health services.

The NHS Providers report includes a detailed case study of a disabled woman who describes how the process of applying for employment and support allowance (ESA) was so stressful that it caused a relapse in her mental health.

The former mental health nurse told NHS Providers that the ESA process and its repeated assessments were “cruel” and left her feeling powerless, while the work capability assessment process was “the biggest source of worry in my life”.

The report, Addressing the Care Deficit, adds to evidence that shows ESA recipients are at particularly high risk of suicide attempts.

Disability News Service (DNS) has repeatedly drawn the attention of government departments and other public bodies to the findings of NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, which showed that 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 about seven per cent of non-ESA claimants.

Despite that evidence, the Cross-Government Suicide Prevention Workplan does not mention DWP, benefits, ESA or universal credit, while ESA and universal credit claimants are not included among the high-risk groups mentioned in the workplan.

The government has also refused to name ESA claimants as a high-risk group in its cross-government suicide prevention strategy.

Public Health England is another organisation that has resisted making this link. In the latest update of its Suicide Prevention Profile, there are 25 risk factors for suicide but they do not include the proportion of the population in local areas that claims ESA.

NHS Providers has now called on the government and its arms-length bodies to act.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, told DNS: “Our report… revealed deep disquiet among mental health trust leaders about the impact of benefits cuts and universal credit on demand for mental health services.

The government and its arms-length bodies should examine the evidence behind this link, and act on it.

We need a benefits system that offers the right support for people who need it, rather than compounding or aggravating mental health problems.”

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

14 March 2019

 

 

DWP silent on figures suggesting ‘fit for work’ deaths may have fallen

Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) suggest that the proportion of disabled people dying soon after being found fit for work may have fallen since the early years of the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).

DWP has refused this week to comment on the figures or even to check on their significance with its own statisticians.

But the figures seem to show a difference between the proportion of people dying after being found fit for work in the first five-and-a-half years of the test, and those dying after being found fit for work between 2014 and 2017.

In one set of figures released this week under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), DWP told campaigner Frank Zola that a total of 1,358,000 people were found fit for work after a WCA between the test’s introduction in October 2008 and July 2017.

Of these, 5,690 people died within six months of being found fit for work, a proportion of 0.419 per cent.

In the second set of figures (PDF), this time released under the FoIA to independent researcher Mo Stewart, DWP said that 548,620 people were found fit for work between 1 March 2014 and 28 February 2017, with 1,560 (or 0.284 per cent) of them dying within six months of this decision.

This suggests – although further research must be carried out to show exactly how and why the figures changed – that the proportion of people dying within six months of being found fit for work reduced when comparing the period October 2008 to March 2014 with March 2014 to February 2017.

The figures could show – although there may be other explanations – that improvements in the assessment recommended by the first three independent reviews of the WCA, carried out by Professor Malcom Harrington in 2010, 2011 and 2012, may have made it less likely that someone would be found fit for work if they were very unwell.

Even if that was true, the figures would not show that the assessment process was now fit for purpose, as shown by deaths such as that of Jodey Whiting in February 2017.

And Labour MP Ruth George told a Commons debate on disability assessment services yesterday (Wednesday) that a constituent of hers had died on his first day back at work after being found fit for work because DWP had refused to take evidence from his doctors.

But the figures could at least suggest that years of campaigning by disabled activists to highlight the unfairness of the test did have some impact.

Because of the severe impact of being found unfairly fit for work, demonstrated by years of research by activists that have shown links to many deaths, it may also be that these improvements led to fewer lives being lost as a result of the WCA process.

Both FoIA requests were made last year but were only answered by DWP this week. Stewart’s request was made in early November and Zola’s in August. FoIA requests are supposed to be answered within 20 working days.

Stewart said: “If these figures do suggest fewer people are dying within six months after being wrongly found ‘fit for work’ by the WCA then that must be something to celebrate.

However, given the thousands who still live in fear of the arrival of yet another brown envelope from the DWP, let’s hope there will be some improvement in the decisions for chronically ill people who didn’t die following the WCA, but who have suffered following this totally discredited and fatally flawed assessment.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if its figures showed that fewer very ill people were now being found fit for work, or to comment on what appeared to be a continuing unacceptably high number of very ill people dying after being wrongly found fit for work.

But she said in a statement: “This data corresponds to two different and overlapping time periods and cannot be directly compared.

Additionally, the figures are from unpublished information which hasn’t been quality assured to National Statistics or Official Statistics publication standards – they should therefore be treated with caution.”

She added later: “As I explained, the data set you’ve provided cannot be compared so it would not be accurate to draw conclusions from them.”

14 March 2019

 

 

Chancellor ignores calls to act on impact of austerity, as Newton quits over Brexit

The chancellor has ignored repeated calls for the government to take urgent steps to ease the social care funding crisis and other impacts of austerity on disabled people, as he delivered his spring statement.

Hammond’s statement yesterday (Wednesday) was overshadowed by the continuing parliamentary Brexit fiasco, which led to the resignation of disabled people’s minister Sarah Newton.

Hammond made no mention of disabled people in his speech, and his only mention of social care was to say that future spending would be addressed in the budget, which is not expected until October or November.

Although the spring statement was low-key, Hammond still made a series of announcements across areas such as science and technology, immigration, knife crime, the digital advertising market, affordable homes, Brexit, apprenticeships, period poverty in schools, late payments to small businesses, the minimum wage, biodiversity and climate change.

In his response to the statement, the shadow chancellor, Labour’s John McDonnell, told Hammond that he was “implicated in every cut, every closure, and every preventable death of someone waiting for hospital treatment or social care”.

In November 2017, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published research which linked government cuts in adult social care and health spending to nearly 120,000 “excess” deaths in England since 2010.

The research warned that the cuts could continue to be responsible for an additional death toll of up to 100 deaths a day if significant extra funding was not found.

One prominent disabled activist, Mary-Ellen, had a leading role in a short film released on the day of the spring statement by the Labour party, and she referred to the BMJ research.

She said in the film: “It’s hard work trying to get the world to recognise that something terrible is happening here in Britain, one of the richest countries in the world.”

She said: “Councils across the country are forcing disabled people to use nappies instead of giving us the support to go to the toilet when we need it.

For me personally it has affected my mental health. It’s broken me, basically.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said the spring statement “seems like an irrelevance” while the government “ties itself in knots trying to save itself” over Brexit.

He said: “Social care is one of the policies that is most about ensuring the quality of people’s lives, especially people who need some help.

This government’s priorities and preoccupation with self-preservation bear no relation to ordinary people’s lives, concerns and growing fears and uncertainty.

Hardly surprising then if disabled and older people don’t feature at all in government statements, just one more reason why we should all be very afraid about the state they have got us into.”

Philip Connolly, policy manager for Disability Rights UK, said the failure to mention disabled people in the spring statement should be “a wake up call to the disability sector”.

He questioned why disability organisations have failed to lobby the Treasury directly when all individual government departments had to do so, and when “the Treasury’s own website permits direct dialogue”.

Connolly called for a sector-wide campaign for an inclusive economy, focused upon the next spending review.

Hammond said in his spring statement that he would launch a three-year spending review before the summer recess, with the results to be announced alongside this autumn’s budget.

14 March 2019

 

 

Broken promises have shattered hopes of right to independent living, says Morris

One of the architects of the last Labour government’s “life chances” strategy has described how “broken promises” by successive governments have shattered disabled people’s hopes of a genuine right to independent living.

Dr Jenny Morris, who led the independent living section of Labour’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People strategy, said its publication in 2005 had been a “moment of hope”.

But she described how that sense of optimism “seemed to disappear almost overnight”, following the financial crisis of 2007-08 and the 2010 election, which led to a Tory-led coalition government.

She said that she and others working on Life Chances had made a “fatal error” by not stressing the need for a nationally-funded independent living system “based on the principle of entitlement”, and had not paid enough attention to the growing focus within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on “getting people off benefits”.

Morris was delivering the first Lorraine Gradwell Memorial Lecture, in memory of one of the key figures in the disabled people’s movement, who died in September 2017. It is hoped the lecture will become an annual event.

She was unable to attend in person but a film of her delivering the lecture – which Morris called Broken Promises: Looking Back on “Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People” – was shown in Manchester on Friday (8 March), followed by a question and answer session.

Two disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) that Gradwell founded or co-founded, Breakthrough UK and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, helped organise the lecture.

Morris described how DWP’s emphasis on cutting the number of benefit claimants had been demonstrated by the employment chapter in the 2005 Life Chances report, which spoke of work being “a component of good health” and emphasised the “beneficial health effects of work”.

In the same year, DWP released research that would form the basis of the work capability assessment (WCA), which she said focused on “getting people off benefits”, “scrutinising whether people are ‘fit for work’” and “people’s supposed attitudes and motivations”, instead of workplace barriers and equal opportunities for work.

Worse than that, she said, was “the denial of people’s own experiences of illness and/or impairment”.

In the last decade, the greatest challenges to the WCA and the introduction of personal independence payment, she said, had often come from people with chronic illness, such as members of the Spartacus network, and, more recently, the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project.

Morris said that she and others working on the Life Chances report had made a “fatal error” in their proposals by failing to recognise that the Independent Living Fund “had more potential to deliver a right to independent living than any reform to local authority social care”.  

Although they had “floated the idea” that independent living should be funded nationally and “taken away from local authorities”, they did not challenge the government’s insistence that this would undermine local accountability.

Instead, the Independent Living Fund was closed by the coalition government, and the “self-determination” promised by the introduction of personal budgets had mostly “failed to materialise”.

The current social care system, said Morris, was incapable of delivering the right to independent living set out in article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

What was needed, she said, as proposed by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, was “a national independent living service, funded from general taxation, free at the point of delivery, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people”.

She also warned of the failure to realise one of the key proposals of Life Chances, for there to be a national network of user-led disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), modelled on centres for independent living.

This, she said, “was never fully realised” and since 2010 many local DPOs had had their funding cut and had “found it increasingly difficult to hold onto existing contracts to provide direct payments support services”.

She added: “Such local organisations are a vital part of any nationally-funded independent living service.”

And she said: “It’s at the local level and amongst disabled people ourselves that we will develop innovative ways to enable people to live ordinary lives.”

14 March 2019

 

 

Flood’s ‘bittersweet’ departure from ‘rock solid’ ALLFIE

A prominent disabled activist has spoken of her “bittersweet” feelings at leaving the organisation that leads the fight for inclusive education after nearly 13 years.

Tara Flood is to leave The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), where she has been director since 2006, for a new post leading strategy on co-production at a pioneering London council.

Her task as strategic head for co-production at Hammersmith and Fulham council will be to implement the recommendations of last year’s ground-breaking report on co-production, which had been commissioned by the London borough.

She will work with fellow disabled activist Kevin Caulfield, chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition against Cuts, who works as a policy and strategy officer at the council.

Flood said she was leaving ALLFIE in a much stronger position than when she had arrived in 2006, when it had just seven months of funding left.

She said: “This organisation is much more confident about what it believes in. We have a much higher profile.

As an organisation, we are rock solid on our principles, even in the face of extreme anti-inclusive rhetoric.

It’s probably our absolute strength that this organisation never shies away from saying the difficult stuff, because it’s the stuff we know that people need to hear and need to understand.”

But she said she was leaving ALLFIE at a time when the environment on inclusive education was “far more hostile” than when she had arrived.

Although the “last knockings of New Labour” had seen the government place a reservation and an interpretive declaration against article 24 – on inclusive education – of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities when it ratified the treaty in 2009, government policy had become far more hostile to inclusive education since 2010, she said.

She said: “From 2010 there has been a deliberate and consistent dismantling of any progress that has been made in this country towards a more inclusive education system.

That has been done publicly, it’s been done with real confidence by a government whose ideology is so opposed to equality and human rights.

They don’t try to dress it up as anything else.”

Although the “burn-out” she felt after years of tackling this “onslaught” led to a sabbatical last year, to Finland and Canada – two countries where there have been attempts to shift away from segregated education – she said that was not the reason she was leaving ALLFIE.

First, she said, she was ready for a new challenge after 13 years. But she also wanted to “finish the job” in Hammersmith and Fulham.

She chaired the Hammersmith and Fulham Disabled People’s Commission that produced last year’s report and co-wrote it with Caulfield.

She said: “Now is the opportunity to realise all of that change that we set out in that report. It’s too good an opportunity to miss.”

The report is wide-ranging, and it concentrates not just on areas such as social care and education that are usually associated with disabled people’s services, but on “everything the council does”.

And it is not just about council services, she said.

One of the report’s recommendations is about building the capacity of the community and supporting disabled people to be co-producers, and about supporting disabled people’s organisations in the borough to work with disabled residents to be ready to co-produce policy decisions and service delivery with the council.

Flood said her new role would be “a challenge”.

She said: “I think we will meet resistance, potentially at every stage. Very few people do not struggle with fundamental change, particularly in sectors where the traditional approach to disabled people has been very, very well-embedded.

But the change is already underway, and I wouldn’t have taken the job if I thought this was just a token gesture.”

One of the tasks she will face, she said, will be in education, where she said she would need to challenge the council to move towards inclusion.

But she has already been encouraged by the co-production role played by disabled people in the planning application to redevelop Hammersmith town hall and the surrounding area.

And she said she was encouraged by the council’s moves away from a focus on personal budgets and towards the adoption of an independent living strategy.

Flood said her thoughts about leaving ALLFIE were “bittersweet”, despite the excitement of her new role, because she felt the tide may finally be turning in the battle against the government’s anti-inclusion policies.

Not only is ALLFIE’s membership increasing, but there has been a string of judicial review cases taken by parents challenging attempts to have their disabled children thrown out of mainstream schools.

In the short-term, ALLFIE is set to make an interim appointment while its trustees choose a permanent replacement for Flood.

She believes ALLFIE will benefit from a fresh approach on income generation from a new director, particularly because it is campaigning for social change in an area opposed by the government, which she said was “a double whammy”.

She is also hopeful about Labour’s new shadow minister responsible for special educational needs, the disabled MP Emma Lewell-Buck, who visited ALLFIE last month for a discussion with Flood.

Flood said: “We were really honest with her about our disappointment about how lacking in detail Labour have been since they recommitted to inclusive education at the party conference last September.

We really hope that with Emma at the helm we will see a new approach to how Labour talk about inclusive education and putting some detail into their policy of a national education service.

It’s a relationship that we have started and we intend to build and she seems to really understand what it is we are trying to do and she is a disabled person herself and has her own story to tell about her own education.”

Flood will also leave as ALLFIE puts the finishing touches to a new version of its manifesto for inclusive education and is planning a private members’ bill that she hopes will act as “a vehicle to build political relationships and support”.

She said the thought of leaving later this month was “awful”.

She said: “I feel ALLFIE is so part of me and I hope that I am part of ALLFIE and I think I am, and I will be really sad to leave, but I think ALLFIE is in a very different, better, stronger place than when I started.

We have an amazing staff team, we are very clear about our vision, we can articulate it with well-evidenced examples, and we are never swayed from our commitment to inclusive education and the ending of segregation, and that’s an amazing achievement in such difficult times.

I hope that as its director I have helped that happen.”

14 March 2019

 

 

Anger over government’s plans for 37 new special schools

Inclusive education campaigners have condemned the government’s announcement that it is funding 37 new special free schools, with segregated institutions for disabled children set to be opened in every part of England.

The announcement by education secretary Damian Hinds means there will be nearly 3,500 more free school places in segregated settings.

There will also be two alternative provision free schools, for children who have been, or are at risk of being, excluded from mainstream education.

Hinds’ announcement comes 18 months after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities was highly critical of the UK government’s record on inclusive education.

When the committee published its “concluding observations” on the progress the UK had made in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in August 2017, it was highly critical of the UK government’s approach, and the “persistence of a dual education system” that segregates increasing numbers of disabled children in special schools.

It called instead for a “coherent strategy” on “increasing and improving inclusive education”, which would include raising awareness of – and support for – inclusive education among parents of disabled children.

But The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said the government had instead continued its ideological drive towards more segregation.

It said it “condemns the government’s mass expansion of segregated education” while at the same time “cutting mainstream school budgets”.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns co-ordinator, said: “This is no longer about austerity and cuts – this government’s ideological drive is towards the dogma of investing in more segregated provision despite its association with poorer educational, employment and emotional outcomes. 

The government continues to ignore the evidence that good mainstream education provision is more likely to produce better outcomes for disabled pupils and that mainstream schools are the first preference of parents. 

The establishment of special schools with poorer outcomes for disabled children is in breach of the government’s obligation to promote disabled children’s human right to inclusive education under UNCRPD article 24, which requires the development of a fully inclusive education system for all.”

Hinds said in a statement: “We want every school to be a school for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

That’s why we are investing significant funding into special education needs units attached to mainstream schools and in additional support so children with education, health and care plans can access mainstream education.

But we recognise some children require more specialist support.

These new special free schools and alternative provision schools will make sure that more complex needs can be provided to help support every child to have a quality education.”

The government’s announcement was welcomed by the Council for Disabled Children (CDC).

Dame Christine Lenehan, CDC’s director, said: “We are pleased to welcome the new wave of special free schools and the extra choice they will bring to the system for children with special educational needs.”

Flood criticised CDC’s support for the government’s announcement.

She said: “We are very, very disappointed about how the CDC have toed the government line over and above the human rights of disabled children and young people to be included in the mainstream.

Of course, when ALLFIE is talking about including in mainstream we do not mean tweaks to the current system.

This is about an education system that reflects the spirit and tone of article 24.

If only CDC had the same values.”

Applications for potential providers will now open in the 39 local authorities that bid successfully for a special or alternative provision school to be opened in their area.

Of the special schools, there will be three in the north-east, six in the north-west, five in Yorkshire and the Humber, one in the East Midlands, four in the West Midlands, four in the east of England, five in London, three in the south-east, and six in the south-west, while the two alternative provision schools will be opened in the West Midlands.

14 March 2019

 

DWP handed petition of 200,000 names on benefit assessment travel

A disabled woman has handed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) a petition of more than 200,000 names in a bid to stop companies forcing claimants to travel long distances to attend face-to-face benefit assessments.

Claudette Lawrence only launched the petition on the 38 Degrees website in November, but by yesterday (Wednesday) it had been signed by more than 213,000 people.

She started the campaign after becoming increasingly concerned about the distances disabled friends were being asked to travel to attend face-to-face assessments with disability assessment contractors Maximus, Atos and Capita.

But she is also concerned about disabled people being charged up to £40 by their GPs to write a letter explaining why they need a home assessment, rather than having to travel to an assessment centre for their eligibility tests for personal independence payment (PIP) or employment and support allowance (ESA).

Lawrence says in her petition: “People who are on benefits due to ill health, cannot afford to pay for private letters.

There is a risk that people who are entitled to PIP or ESA will lose out, causing hardship and suffering.”

Last week, Lawrence and Lorna Greenwood, campaigns manager for 38 Degrees, were at DWP’s headquarters in London to discuss the issues and hand the petition to civil servants and a special adviser to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd.

Lawrence told Disability News Service (DNS) that a friend of hers from Thamesmead in east London had been asked to attend a work capability assessment in Wembley, on the other side of the capital in north-west London.

Another friend, from Charlton, in south-east London, had been asked to attend an assessment in Southend, on the Essex coast.

Lawrence said: “It’s just not right. The whole process is unfit for purpose.”

She said she had been expecting a strong response to her petition but had been “absolutely shocked” by how many people had signed it.

One of the disabled people who signed the petition said: “I have a long term mental health disorder and I was expected to take a journey with my baby which would involve three buses and two trains.

When I rang to say I couldn’t cope with even walking out of the door, let alone figure out the details of a very expensive journey, they treated me with contempt and rudeness.

They ignored my doctor’s letter. Needless to say they decided in my absence that I was fit for work.

Luckily my local DEA [disability employment adviser] saw the truth and made up for their nastiness.”

Another said: “They make people travel a great distance then say if you can travel this far then you are fine.”

And a third said: “I have had to travel for an assessment be completely unable to move for a week afterwards [and was then] turned down.”

And one said simply: “I was asked to attend an assessment in Milton Keynes and I live in London!”

A DWP spokesperson declined to say what action the department would take in response to the petition.

But she said in a statement: “We want everyone to have a good experience at their PIP or work capability assessment.

Whenever we can we will make benefit decisions using paper evidence so that people don’t need to travel to an assessment.

Anyone we need to see in person who is not able to travel to an assessment centre can request a home assessment.

Wherever possible our assessment providers will use supporting evidence which does not incur a fee to claimants. 

No one is required to travel for more than 90 minutes by public transport to their assessment.”

Five years ago, MPs on the Commons public accounts committee used evidence collected in a lengthy investigation by DNS and the disabled journalist Richard Butchins to accuse Atos of lying in the document it used to win a £184 million contract to provide PIP assessments across London and the south of England.

Atos had won the contract by boasting of its “extensive” network of 16 NHS trusts, two private hospital chains, and four physiotherapy providers, all of which it said would provide sites where the PIP tests would take place.

But in the months after the contract was awarded, all but four of the NHS trusts and both of the private hospital chains dropped out.

Atos had stated in the tender that it had a network of 740 assessment sites across London and the south of England.

But after the contract was signed, it only managed to secure 96 assessment centres, including not a single one covering a vast sweep of north London, and only one in Suffolk and one in Cambridgeshire, although it has since improved these numbers.

14 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:53
Mar 072019
 

Please can we share the below far and wide!

As part of their inquiry into DSS Discrimination, the government’s Work and Pensions Committee has launched a survey aimed at HB claimants who have struggled to access housing in the private rented sector.

The survey consists of some short answer questions on whether claimants have faced difficulty in renting a property because they were in receipt of benefits. Based on the tick boxes selected the survey may then ask follow up questions such as when a claimant faced difficulty due to ‘no DSS polices’, what benefits the claimant was in receipt of and whether the landlord/letting agency explained why they could not rent the property and offered any alternatives.

The survey itself will help inform the oral evidence session on ‘no DSS’ clauses due to take place on 20 March and the inquiry as a whole.

The Committee would be very grateful if you could help promote the survey

Please find the link below.

https://twitter.com/CommonsWorkPen/status/1102956785940525056

 Posted by at 15:48
Mar 072019
 

Reaction to Rudd’s reforms: Tinkering, crumbs and fears of a Trojan horse for cuts

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have raised grave concerns about a series of reforms to the disability benefits assessment system announced by work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd.

Rudd secured broadly positive coverage of her reforms from the mainstream media this week, but disabled campaigners have told Disability News Service (DNS) of their concerns, particularly about her plans to simplify the system.

DPOs and grassroots disabled activists said the plans amounted to “minor tinkering” when the system was instead in need of a radical overhaul.

The most striking announcement by Rudd was that her Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) plans to test if it can assess eligibility for both the extra costs benefit personal independence payment (PIP) and the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA) through a single face-to-face assessment, at least for those disabled people who apply for the two benefits at the same time.

It plans to do this through an “integrated” service, supported by a new digital system, which will deal with both PIP and ESA (and universal credit) assessments, and will begin to go live from 2021.

It hopes this DWP-owned system will allow a greater number of assessment providers than the current three companies – Atos, Capita and Maximus – to come into the market and “compete” to provide assessments.

But the changes will also mean DWP extending the contract of Maximus – the unpopular and discredited provider of work capability assessments (WCAs) – by 17 months to the end of July 2021.

Rudd’s speech was delivered on Tuesday at the offices of the disability charity Scope on the Olympic Park in east London.

A DWP spokesperson later told Disability News Service (DNS) that there were no plans to move to a single set of eligibility criteria across the two benefits – one of the many concerns raised by campaigners – and that the announcement was not a step towards moving to a single disability benefit covering both extra costs and out-of-work payments.

She said the new digital platform would “enable much greater information sharing between the two assessments” and that it would be “rolled out carefully – learning as we go”.

But Catherine Hale, lead researcher and project manager of the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project (CIIP), told DNS: “In theory, the idea of a single digital platform could simplify the claimant experience.

But we’ve seen with universal credit how the idea of an ‘integrated’ digital system has been a Trojan horse for cuts to disability premiums.

We are worried that the proposed integration of PIP and ESA will be a way of further eroding the premiums that recognise the extra costs of long-term unemployment, by stealth.

And we’re concerned that linking PIP eligibility to work capability will take us further away from the principle that PIP is intended to compensate for the financial penalty of disability, which exists both in and out of work.”

Al Morrison, communications and media officer for Inclusion London, who was at the speech, said: “There’s a lot we could say about yesterday’s announcements, but our overwhelming feeling is that these are not solutions.

We feel this is minor tinkering of a system that is completely flawed and needs to be overhauled, with a social model-based approach to assessments.

Until that happens, the benefits system and assessments process will continue to be punitive and hostile.”

She added: “We can’t understand why the contract with Maximus has been extended either.

It’s brutally apparent that this private contractor works for profit and not in the interests of disabled people.”

Last month, it emerged that Maximus appeared to have no written policy on how to protect the safety of people claiming ESA, despite years of evidence linking the WCA with deaths and serious harm.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said that “rolling both assessments together, risking people losing everything in one fell swoop, is a nightmare scenario.

The right way forward would be to end repeated reassessment and bring in lifetime awards for PIP until such time as both totally failing assessments are scrapped and replaced with something fit for purpose.”

Ken Butler, benefits policy advisor for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), was another who called for wholesale reform rather than the minor changes proposed by Rudd.

He said: “Assessments for both ESA and PIP are flawed and poorly administered. The current figures for successful appeals on both benefits make that quite clear. 

You can’t merge two badly constructed processes and expect to come up with one fit-for-purpose approach.

Without a wholesale change of design of the assessment process, huge numbers of disabled people will continue to be denied benefits they are entitled to – that’s the change we need.”

Rosa Morris, who has personal experience of the WCA and last year completed a PhD examining the assessment process and disability benefits, said Rudd had failed to acknowledge that “both assessment processes for PIP and ESA are unfit for purpose and create additional harm.

My personal experience of the WCA and my academic research, added to my current work supporting people with PIP and ESA claims, shows a system which views disabled people’s experiences of their bodies and lives as contentious, is not motivated by wishing to support them, and is instead focused on reducing claimant numbers.

It is currently unclear what any integration of the assessment processes will look like in practice, but there is a real danger of PIP ending up integrated into universal credit, where it could be at risk of conditionality and sanctions and no longer be a universal non-means tested benefit designed to address additional costs and unrelated to employment status.”

Caroline Richardson, a disabled researcher and member of the Spartacus Network of campaigners, said Rudd’s announcement suggested that the two very different benefits “have effectively been merged in the minds of the DWP”.

She said: “I have fought hard to keep the distinction, and that disabled people who are well can work, but sick people who have apparent functionality cannot work, and that the benefits are for different purposes and therefore should have very different testing criteria.

Repeatedly I have heard MPs, media and even disability organisation conflate and confuse the two benefits.

They are separate benefits for separate purposes and should remain that way.”

Jenny Morris, who helped write the Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People white paper, was another to raise fears that ministers could be moving towards merging the two very different benefits.

She said on Twitter that there had been no recognition from Rudd that PIP was an “extra costs benefit” and “nothing to do with ability to work”.

She said: “Are we on a journey to abolishing the whole idea of a benefit which is intended to fund the additional costs associated with impairment and illness?”

Another measure announced by Rudd, which again secured positive coverage in the mainstream media, was that DWP would no longer reassess PIP claimants who have reached the pension age – or at least would only give them a “light touch review” every 10 years – unless they tell the department their needs have changed.

Some campaigning organisations, like DR UK, said the measure showed a more “common sense approach” to assessments.

But Burnip told DNS: “Rudd has thrown a few crumbs to a few pensioners who are possibly WASPI women who have had years of pension entitlement stolen or have a partner under pension age who will lose thousands of pounds through universal credit rules.

This is nothing more than an insult to them.” 

Inclusion London said it could “find no rational explanation for ending frequent re-assessments of only state-pension-age disabled people” and called for an urgent review of the new policy.

Morrison pointed out that Rudd had failed to “properly address a press question asking why this change will not apply to younger disabled people too”.

Stef Benstead, another CIIP researcher and member of the Spartacus Network, said the move was “daft”.

She said: “They’re equating permanent severe illness with being over pension age… using an unreliable proxy for something that could be directly assessed. A bit like PIP itself, really.

They also think they can design a computer system for holding PIP and universal credit/ESA info by 2021, despite the universal credit debacle.”

In a ministerial statement issued before the speech, Rudd also said that ministers were hoping to improve the mandatory reconsideration process – reviews carried out by DWP before benefit claimants can appeal a decision on their claim – to ensure that further evidence was gathered from claimants at this stage and to “make more accurate decisions sooner”.

And she confirmed a previous announcement that DWP would test a new approach that should reduce the conditions – and potential sanctions – imposed on disabled people awaiting a WCA as part of a universal credit claim.

But Philip Connolly, Disability Rights UK’s policy manager, said: “Amber Rudd acknowledged how many disabled people experience her department when she said that for some it was akin to being on trial, but her announcements fell short of the legitimate expectations of disabled people for the wholesale suspension of sanctions or the need for evidence-based descriptors in the WCA.”

Rudd also said she would commission research to examine disabled claimants’ experience of the benefits system and how to meet their needs, and that she wanted to improve DWP’s engagement with “disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, and the charities that support disabled people”.

But Inclusion London said: “We welcome the mention of co-production with disabled people, but we have little evidence that the government is committed to such meaningful engagement.

After the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities made their concluding observations outlining their concerns with disability rights – stating that the government should work with disabled people’s representative organisations – it took 18 months for the minister for disabled people to meet with us.

We know the government has arranged a number of meetings discussing the issues disabled people face where we have been excluded.

They seem intent on engaging with charities, not disabled people’s organisations.”

Hale also welcomed Rudd’s comment on engagement, and said she looked forward to sharing with her CIIP’s forthcoming report based on research into the lived experience of chronic illness, social security and work.

She said: “We especially urge her to consider the needs of people with energy impairment.

Our research participants felt as though the WCA and PIP assessment are deliberately designed not to take account of fatigue and energy impairment and therefore to deny their lived experience of their health condition.

We will be making recommendations for a system that empowers people with energy-limiting chronic illness to live as fully as possible, rather than punishing them as the current system does. It must begin with listening, trust and respect.”

Rudd also announced that she wanted to set a “new and more ambitious goal” than the government’s current target of seeing one million more disabled people in work in the 10 years to 2027.

And she said she wanted to “significantly improve how DWP supports disabled people and those with health conditions”, admitting that some disabled people had told her that they “feel as though they are put on trial for seeking the state’s support”.

She insisted that her DWP colleagues were “in their jobs because they want to help people” and so DWP needed to “do more to close the gap between our intentions and your experiences”.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, was dismissive of the reforms, and said: “Rudd’s announcements today are totally inadequate.

The hostile environment that this government has created for disabled people is set to continue.

These reforms do not address the fundamental flaws in a system that has repeatedly failed ill and disabled people, who continue to face cruel and callous PIP reassessments and an unfit-for-purpose assessment framework.

Labour will scrap PIP and WCA assessments, which have caused unnecessary suffering to so many, and replace them with a system that treats disabled people with dignity and respect.”

Asked how Rudd responded to the claim that the changes would do nothing to address the fundamental flaws in the system, the DWP spokesperson said: “As the secretary of state said yesterday, she is committed to closing the gap between our intentions and disabled people’s experiences, and she will be guided by disabled people as we work together to provide the opportunities and support they deserve and expect.”

7 March 2019

 

 

Professor Mike Oliver: Outpouring of admiration for social model pioneer

The death of the disabled academic who first defined the “social model of disability” has led to an outpouring of admiration, affection and grief from leading figures in the disabled people’s movement.

Their responses highlighted the status of Professor Mike Oliver as one of the movement’s most influential figures.

After hearing of his death this week, many disabled friends and admirers explained on social media how his work had changed their lives.

Dr Sally Witcher, chief executive of Inclusion Scotland, said his book, The Politics of Disablement, had “profoundly” changed her understanding of disability and of herself as a disabled person.

Tracey Proudlock, co-founder of the influential Campaign for Accessible Transport in the early 1990s, said his work had set her on a “personal journey transforming” her own politics.

Tara Flood, director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said Oliver was “an absolute legend and a pioneer” and added: “His social model of disability thinking along with others of his generation are absolutely responsible for the lightbulb moment in my life.”

Agnes Fletcher, a former director of policy and communications at the Disability Rights Commission, added: “An intellectual giant with shoulders broad enough to set so many of us free.”

And Phil Friend, a former chair of Disability Rights UK, said Oliver was “a colossus and irreplaceable” and would “always be remembered as the one who set us all free”.

Other leading disabled activists and campaigners to recognise his contribution to the disabled people’s movement this week included Professor Peter Beresford, Michelle Daley, Jane Young, Dennis Queen, Liz Carr, Cllr Pam Thomas, Mik Scarlet, and Rhian Davies.

Many first heard the news from the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who had known Professor Oliver for more than 30 years, and described him as a “dear friend, mentor and all-round genius”.

They wrote a book together, Disability Politics: Understanding Our Past, Changing Our Future, and Baroness Campbell said his legacy was “central to how millions of disabled people now live their lives and see themselves”, as “empowered people with rights” rather than a medical diagnosis.

In an interview with PhD researcher Jonjo Brady, recorded last year for a documentary by the University of Kent’s Matt Wilson, which was shown as part of the university’s Disability History Month event in November, Oliver described how he left grammar school with three O-levels, before working as a clerk in an office for a year, where he discovered “that being at work was even more boring than being at school”.

But after he broke his neck diving into a swimming pool, he spent a year receiving rehabilitation in Stoke Mandeville Hospital’s renowned spinal injuries unit, and was then given a job teaching young offenders.

When a law change meant he could no longer teach without a degree or teaching qualification, he decided to study sociology, the first subject he had encountered that he felt was relevant to his own life.

He studied sociology and social anthropology at the University of Kent in the early 1970s, at a time when it was physically “unwelcoming” to a wheelchair-user, in contrast to the helpful attitude of the staff and fellow students who assisted him daily with the barriers he faced in the “generous times ushered in by the economic and cultural revolutions of the 1960s”.

His life, he said later, was changed by a booklet published in 1976 by the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS), The Fundamental Principles of Disability, which argued that “the root cause of our problems was the way society was organised and the disabling barriers we faced”.

UPIAS – and one of its key members, the father of the social model, Vic Finkelstein – argued that disabled people were oppressed by society, rather than seeing disability as “a personal tragedy”.

This meant, said Oliver, that he “no longer had to accept full responsibility” for his impairment and understood instead that his “personal troubles were also public issues”, an insight that led him to develop the UPIAS principles and define the social model as the key to understanding disabled people’s oppression.

Oliver stayed on after his degree to complete his PhD in Kent, and eventually to teach a masters course for social workers working with disabled people. It is believed to have been the first postgraduate course in what later became known as disability studies.

At the time, he would say later, most writing on disability “was dominated by assumptions that disability was a medical problem and the focus was on illness and impairment”, and any personal focus was on disabled people as “tragic victims”, with the stereotype reinforced in popular culture through the “triumph over tragedy” genre.

He had wanted his masters course instead to challenge the idea that professionals working with disabled people should focus solely on their “personal troubles and not how and why they were linked to public issues”.

He told Brady last year: “I did want to provide an alternative, more optimistic picture, which wasn’t simply about seeing disability as personal tragedy, disabled people as unemployable, and so on, and it was about having an optimistic view of what disabled people could achieve if many of the barriers that they faced were removed.”

Oliver’s first book, Social Work with Disabled People, published in 1983, incorporated this philosophy and introduced the social model of disability to a wider audience, and within five years, he said, “had become the mantra for many disabled people’s organisations and was beginning to make its way into official government documents”.

The book, now in its fourth edition, is still in print.

He also spoke in his interview with Brady about his second book, The Politics of Disablement, which was published in 1990 and brought together sociology and disability and became a key textbook just as disability studies “was about to take off”.

Oliver would later become the first professor of disability studies in the UK, at the University of Greenwich, and he was still, in retirement, emeritus professor of disability studies at the university.

He played a key role in the late 1980s and early 1990s in persuading the government to introduce disability discrimination legislation, partly he said later by pushing for research that was carried out on behalf of the British Council of Disabled People by another pioneering disabled academic, Colin Barnes, which showed the extent of discrimination faced by disabled people in Britain.

Oliver said it was that research by Barnes (now emeritus professor of disability studies at the University of Leeds), and direct action by the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network, that persuaded the government to introduce the first Disability Discrimination Act, which became law in 1995.

But he said the Conservative government “sold disabled people and our aims for that legislation down the river” by making the act ineffective and “almost unenforceable”.

In a statement following his death, the Centre for Disability Studies (CDS) at the University of Leeds described Oliver as “a pioneer of UK disability studies” who “will never be forgotten”, and said his work on the social model “became – and remains – essential for challenging social injustice”.

CDS said his ideas and commentary had helped to shape the “strategies, demands and activities” of the UK disabled people’s movement, while his writings were “highly regarded across the globe and were instrumental in the development of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.

CDS added: “The clarity and accessibility of his writing has led to various arguments, including alternative theories, to emerge within disability studies and across activist networks.

This is to be welcomed as it will further debate and action to address the marginalisation of disabled people.

Yet his materialist account of disability – which explored the relationship between disability and capitalism – will remain significant to current and future research and action.”

His collaboration with disabled activists and disabled people’s organisations, said CDS, transformed disability “from a personal and private trouble to a public issue, one that remains a matter of social justice.

His extensive publications, which include journal articles, books, and keynote speeches, has challenged all of us to consider how disabled people’s historical and contemporary experiences are captured, articulated and used as a way to bring about emancipation.”

In recent years, Oliver emerged occasionally from retirement, either to campaign locally in Kent, where he still lived, or to deliver powerful speeches that were heavily critical of both the government and the large charities that claimed to speak for disabled people.

Last summer, Disability News Service (DNS) reported on his campaigning work in Kent to expose the failings in the company responsible for the NHS wheelchair services contract in the county.

He had been a user of wheelchair services in Kent for more than 50 years, and said he believed the service was worse than it had ever been throughout that time.

Allen Jones, honorary chair of Wheelchair Users Group for South and East Kent (WUG), knew Oliver for nearly 30 years and said it was thanks to his “tireless campaigning and badgering” that they had made progress in persuading the authorities to listen to their concerns.

He told DNS: “Hopefully it will be part of his legacy that we will have a wheelchair service in Kent that is fit for purpose.”

He added: “For disabled people he will be a massive loss, especially for those of us in Kent who knew him.”

They became friends when Jones was chair of Centre for Independent Living Kent (CILK), and Oliver helped them put together a successful lottery bid for a mobile centre for independent living.

Jones said: “He had a wonderful, dry sense of humour. He was always there as a friend and a campaigner when we needed it.”

He said Oliver had been “passionate” about the social model “right until the last”, delivering a five-minute summary in one of the meetings with the company that delivers the wheelchair services contract.

He said: “That was the essence of Mike: he would help anybody, but he wouldn’t mince his words. He would tell it how it is.

Unless you challenge and deal with it, it will never improve. That was his philosophy. He would never take no for an answer.

Hopefully the legacy of the social model and his campaigning and his advocacy will live on and hopefully many more disabled people will trawl the archives and find the papers he has written and take it up and hopefully we will get a new generation of campaigners.”

In 2013, Oliver had spoken in public about disability for the first time in 10 years, warning disabled people to beware of the “fakes” and “so-called friends” who tried to jump on the independent living “bandwagon”.

In a speech to mark the launch of UK Disability History Month, he said disabled people should never “forget where we came from” and should remember that “we were the ones who escaped from our isolation and segregation, whether we were in homes or our families”.

Describing some of the lessons from history that disabled people must learn in their continuing struggle for independence, he said they should remember that independent living did not mean “living on our own” or “doing everything for ourselves” but was about “having choice and control in our lives” and “autonomy and self-determination”.

And he warned them to beware of “the fakes who seek to jump on the independent living bandwagon”, such as the big charities who “claim to promote and support independent living and yet continue to run residential homes and even export the residential model to other parts of the world”.

Four years later, in another speech to mark Disability History Month, this time at the University of Kent, he said that many of the big charities were “parasitic on the lives of disabled people, and their attempts to reposition themselves as defenders of disability rights are an attempt to disguise this”.

He also warned that the government had positioned disabled people as “pathetic victims”, allowing ministers to launch “a massive attack on services and benefits for disabled people” while claiming that their “relentless assault on the living standards of disabled people is nothing of the kind but a heartfelt attempt to take public money away from scroungers and fraudsters and give it to the most severely disabled people who really need it”.

He concluded that disabled people needed to take responsibility themselves for “attacking the disabling barriers we face”, arguing: “What disability history teaches us is that we cannot rely on the bleeding hearts brigade and parasite people to do it for us.

We have to do it for ourselves. We have to insist that our personal troubles are public issues that need to be resolved.”

7 March 2019

 

 

Disabled DWP employee ‘attempted suicide over culture of workplace bullying’

A disabled employee of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says he attempted to take his own life and experienced life-threatening physical health complications because of a culture of workplace bullying and discrimination.

Paul* spoke out about his own experiences after reading a Disability News Service (DNS) report describing how DWP repeatedly failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people who were recruited into its Community Partners scheme.

His account of his own experiences working in a separate part of DWP adds to mounting evidence of disability discrimination within the department.

Only last week, DNS reported how the proportion of DWP staff who say they have been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months has risen by about 50 per cent in just four years, according to Civil Service figures.

There was also a rise of more than 10 per cent in just 12 months in the number of DWP staff saying they had personally experienced disability discrimination at work, from 1,462 in 2017 to 1,612 in 2018.

These statistics, combined with other Civil Service figures, suggest that more than a third of disabled DWP staff experienced disability discrimination at work in 2018.

The latest evidence of discrimination within the government department responsible for the much-criticised Disability Confident programme also further strains the scheme’s credibility.

DWP itself has secured the status of Disability Confident Leader, the highest of three levels within the scheme, which aims to work with employers to “challenge attitudes towards disability” and “ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations”.

Paul attempted suicide as a result of the abuse and discrimination he experienced, while the increased stress levels led to significant, lasting and potentially fatal health complications.

He said he was still waiting for all the reasonable adjustments he needed to do his job, more than 18 months after he requested them.

He said he had received phone calls from fellow disabled employees who were in tears because of the failure of the department to make the reasonable adjustments they needed to do their job.

Paul said that when he and others pass on concerns about the impact of bullying and harassment on their mental health, they are told to take anti-depressants or seek counselling, while the staff and managers responsible are moved to other departments or rewarded with promotions.

His experiences with DWP have had, he said, “a devastating effect on my career prospects, a devastating effect on my potential earnings, and a devastating effect on my potential life expectancy and ability to live on my own”.

He added: “In fact, this has had a devastating effect on my life.”

DWP’s widespread failings call into question its fitness to judge disabled people’s eligibility for benefits, he added.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring all colleagues, including those with disabilities or health conditions, get the support they need to thrive.

The department has a duty of care to its colleagues and aims to lead by example as a Disability Confident employer, following best practice in recruiting, retaining and developing disabled staff.

This includes making workplace adjustments for staff who require them and providing a dedicated team to deliver this.

We have in place robust processes for colleagues and managers to follow in relation to diversity and inclusion and, while the number of staff reporting disability discrimination is very small, we treat any case extremely seriously.”

She said DWP takes “active steps” to promote equality, and that more than 10,500 employers have signed up to Disability Confident, while the department was modernising its recruitment practices to make them “fairer and more inclusive”.

She added: “Should any individual feel they or their circumstances have not been treated with respect; believe they have been treated unfairly; or not in line with our inclusive principles, our policies and procedures provide a route for escalation so it can be considered and addressed.”

*Not his real name. DNS has disguised his occupation within DWP and has not provided full details of the health problems caused by the discrimination he has experienced to avoid identifying him

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

7 March 2019

 

 

Job losses at Disability Rights UK as user-led funding squeeze tightens

A national disabled people’s organisation has had to make cuts of nearly 20 per cent to its staff, in a further sign of the financial difficulties facing many user-led organisations across the country.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) is making four of its 22 posts* redundant, although as two of the posts are vacant it will be losing two members of staff.

DR UK told Disability News Service yesterday (Wednesday) that it was set for an annual deficit of about £165,000 for 2018-19 against a backdrop of “particularly fierce” competition for funding.

DR UK’s chief executive, Kamran Mallick, said the charity was “facing bigger challenges than we had hoped” but that “the future of the organisation is not at risk”.

He said: “We planned for a small deficit but like many voluntary organisations, we are feeling the impact of a shortage of statutory and public sector funding and grants.”

He said DR UK had not generated as much income from activities such as training and consultancy as it had hoped, and would now be focusing more on its research, policy and campaigning work.

Mallick said: “This restructure will help us get on a sound financial footing and focus more on our research, policy and campaigning work.

This is all supported by plans for generating income.”

Last month, leading disability networks warned that user-led organisations were continuing to close across the country, with the sector even facing a “real threat of extinction”.

The news of the redundancies comes only two years after Mallick’s predecessor as chief executive, Liz Sayce, said DR UK was in a “sustainable financial position”, and was expecting to report a financial surplus, following past concerns about the charity’s pensions deficit.

That deficit arose unexpectedly following fluctuations in the financial markets, as a result of a final salary pension scheme which had been closed to new members years previously by RADAR, one of the three disability organisations that merged to form DR UK.

In 2014, DR UK staved off the threat of closure after reaching an agreement with the Pension Protection Fund to take over its defined benefits pension scheme, after developing an unsustainable pensions deficit of more than £3 million.

Mallick said he and colleagues had been working to make DR UK “more efficient” and trying to increase income, while it had halved its office rental costs by moving last January from Shoreditch to the Olympic Park in east London and had made savings by changing its IT and auditing service-providers.

He said: “We hope and expect the changes we have made will solve the immediate financial problems and put us on the path to surplus budgets for the year 2020-21.”

*Last year’s accounts showed an average of 22.2 full-time equivalent staff in 2017-18

7 March 2019

 

 

Inquiry to examine discrimination in legal system, and possible miscarriages of justice

Autistic rights campaigners have welcomed a new inquiry into the discrimination faced by disabled people in the criminal justice system.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) inquiry, which will cover England, Scotland and Wales, will look at whether the barriers in the system are exposing disabled people to potential miscarriages of justice.

It will focus on autistic and other neurodivergent people, people with learning difficulties and those with mental health conditions, concentrating on their experiences after they have been charged with a criminal offence and before they reach trial.

The inquiry will examine whether their needs are properly identified and if they receive the adjustments they need to allow them to understand the charges and the legal process and to participate “effectively and as fully as possible”.

Adjustments can include the use of intermediaries, allowing extra time and breaks, and providing accessible information.

The EHRC inquiry will also look at how modernisation of the court system, such as the use of video-link hearings and online processes, is affecting disabled defendants and accused (the Scottish criminal justice system uses the term “accused” instead of defendants).

And it will examine the legal duties of the government, public sector bodies and the judiciary to make adjustments under the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The inquiry was welcomed by Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people.

Kat Humble, Autistic UK’s communications officer, said: “Autistic UK welcome this investigation, as we have heard far too many stories from people going through the justice system unsupported and misunderstood.

There is little wonder that so many in the autistic community mistrust the justice system when they so often end up victims of miscommunication and overwhelming environments through lack of adequate support.

The time between a charge and a trial is fraught with panic and overwhelming decisions.

It is critical at this juncture to ensure that the person charged understands what is happening, understands any decisions made about them, and has the information to make any decisions they need to make for themselves.

Appropriate advocacy is imperative to ensure smooth communication, along with such reasonable adjustments such as a low stimulation environment and time allowed for the person to process all information.” 

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “The launch of this inquiry shows the level of concern of the treatment of disabled people by our criminal justice system.

It is disgraceful that some of the most marginalised in society are denied support and face miscarriages of justice.

Disabled people deserve a process in which they are able to fully participate. Labour will create a justice system that treats disabled people equally and fairly.”

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “The criminal justice system is complex and people with impairments such as autism and mental health conditions can find it especially difficult to navigate their way through the system.

It is essential that criminal justice works fairly for everyone and that anyone accused of a crime is not disadvantaged by virtue of having an impairment. 

Technology can often assist and empower disabled people, but we must also ensure it is used appropriately and doesn’t inadvertently end up isolating disabled people or jeopardising their ability to participate in person.

If disabled people’s needs aren’t properly identified from the outset they are at risk of not understanding the charges they face, the advice they receive or the legal process. 

In some cases, this can mean disabled people could be wrongly convicted or receive inappropriate sentences.”

7 March 2019

 

 

Jodey Whiting: DWP apologises, but no word on preventing future deaths

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has apologised for a series of failings made in the weeks leading to the death of a disabled mother-of-nine, but it has failed to explain how it will prevent further tragedies in the future.

A senior civil servant has written to the mother of Jodey Whiting, who took her own life in February 2017, 15 days after her out-of-work disability benefits were stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA).

Emma Haddad, DWP’s director of working age benefits, apologised in the letter both for safeguarding errors made by the department in the weeks before her death, and failings that took place afterwards.

But there was nothing in Haddad’s letter to suggest how DWP will prevent further deaths, despite years of evidence of the institutional failure of DWP to guarantee the safety of disabled people – and particularly those with a history of mental distress – within the “fitness for work” system.

Haddad’s letter was written following the completion of a report by the Independent Case Examiner (ICE), which concluded that DWP had been guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case, and that it had failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to Whiting’s suicide.

Haddad told Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, that when her daughter failed to attend her WCA appointment DWP “should have attempted further contact with Jodey before closing her claim”.

She added: “We do have guidelines in place to try and safeguard customers and regrettably our procedures were not followed.”

Haddad also apologised for failing to update the department’s IT systems following her death and for sending “unnecessary” letters and phone calls after being notified that she had died, which she said was “clearly unacceptable”.

She also apologised for DWP failing to respond to letters sent by Whiting and those acting on her behalf, and for failing to carry out a full investigation until Dove contacted ICE with a complaint.

Haddad said the department’s customer service standards were “clearly not achieved”.

Dove told DNS: “When I read the letter it upset me, thinking, ‘Yes, my daughter could have been alive if they have done everything they should have done.’”

And she said the letter failed to explain how DWP would prevent further deaths.

Asked why Haddad had not stated what measures the department would take to prevent further deaths, a DWP spokesperson said the department was “reviewing our procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again”, but she declined to comment further.

Samaritans can be contacted free, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org

7 March 2019

 

 

Equality Act does not apply abroad, says British Council, after sacking disabled teacher

The government-funded body that promotes the UK’s culture and education abroad has sacked a disabled teacher, despite its own internal investigation concluding that it failed to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed to do her job.

The British Council, which proclaims itself a Disability Confident employer – under the discredited employment scheme run by the Department for Work and Pensions – was able to dodge its Equality Act duties by arguing that the legislation does not apply because Emily Frisby worked in Morocco and so was subject to local employment law.

Internal investigations upheld her complaint about the failure of managers to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed and even concluded that “management may have crossed a red line in terms of intimidation/bullying” of Frisby.

But although the British Council then agreed to provide the adjustments she needed, managers repeatedly refused to provide details of the provisions they would make, she said, and ignored her emails asking for clarification.

She had experienced months of disability discrimination at the hands of British Council managers after transferring to Morocco from Vietnam in 2017.

She was denied the reduced hours she had in her previous British Council job, which worsened her health condition, and was forced to take a “protracted and dehumanising” grievance procedure because of the refusal to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed.

Her condition affects her hearing and balance, and symptoms include vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus, all of which can be triggered by stress.

But when she tried to secure the reasonable adjustments she needed, managers refused to provide them and instead questioned her impairment, and, she said, bullied and harassed her.

As a result of her treatment, she was signed off work with stress and anxiety and an exacerbation of the symptoms of her condition.

She was forced to drop a legal claim for discrimination because the British Council argued that the Equality Act does not apply to its actions in Morocco, even though it is a UK charity, receives funding from the UK government, is sponsored by the Foreign Office, and has signed up to Disability Confident.

Now the British Council has given Frisby three months’ notice under the “Moroccan labor code”, blaming her for her failure to return to work and telling her they are treating this as a resignation, even though her GP and an occupational therapist advised her to make sure the adjustments were in place before she returned to work.

She has been off sick for more than a year and received sick pay only until August. She has not been paid since.

She said: “I haven’t had any indication of how the adjustments would work in practice… despite repeatedly asking for and obviously needing confirmation and clarification.

My GP and occupational health advised to have the adjustments in place before I returned to work to avoid further stress and delays and it seemed sensible considering it would be impossible for me to return to work without any discussion or knowledge of my working hours and classes.

All I wanted was to reduce or change my timetable and have a level of support and understanding about my health condition.”

She added: “My emails and sick notes are often ignored entirely, or they just repeat that adjustments will be made on my return to work, ignoring the other questions and concerns.

It’s hard not to see this as part of the same hostile environment for disabled people coming from the UK government, and as retaliation for speaking out and complaining.”

The British Council argues that it does not need to comply with the Equality Act because Frisby was employed in Morocco and was subject to local employment law. 

It also says that “the spirit” of the Equality Act is captured in its “equality policy, values and behaviours”, which apply to all staff globally. 

A British Council spokesperson refused to say whether it would provide Frisby with an apology and compensation for the treatment she has received.

She also failed to say why the British Council could not go beyond Moroccan law and treat disabled people as fairly as they would be treated in the UK, and she refused to say if the British Council believed it could continue as a Disability Confident Employer in the light of her treatment.

But the spokesperson said in a statement: “Our own internal investigation into this found that we didn’t handle some aspects of the adjustments required very well. 

Although the changes were later put in as requested, we are sorry for the upset this situation caused.

We had successfully made adjustments for Ms Frisby in a previous role, in a different country. 

We have now shared how we handled these requests with our Disability Facilitators –specially trained staff in global teams – so they can help assist employees and managers in these situations.

As an organisation, we fully recognise that people with disabilities face discrimination and barriers, and we are committed to identifying and removing those barriers so we can improve our practice.”

7 March 2019

 

 

Some claims that London 2012 changed the world are nonsense, says disabled peer

One of Britain’s greatest Paralympians has told a parliamentary meeting to beware of claims that London 2012 “changed the world” for disabled people.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson was speaking at a parliamentary meeting held to discuss the need for more to be done to enable disabled people to take part in physical activity.

The retired Paralympian – she won 11 Paralympic golds as a wheelchair athlete – and now crossbench peer said that some of the often-repeated claims that “2012 changed the world” were “nonsense”.

She told the meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for disability that London 2012 “did lots of incredible things for the Olympics and Paralympics, but it didn’t change disability hate crime, which is on the rise, especially against children, and it didn’t change many disabled people’s opportunity to be physically active.

It gave lots of young people aspirations and some people definitely came to activity because of it, but it hasn’t changed the entire world in terms of what we do.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson, who was speaking as both a crossbench peer and chair of ukactive, which promotes physical activity and represents large parts of the fitness and leisure industry, said the Paralympics were “great if you’re talented and want to spend all your life training and make it to the highest levels of sport”.

But she said that disabled people also need “the same opportunity to be fit and healthy” as non-disabled people and to just be “rubbish at sport”.

She said: “It’s not all about sport, it’s about physical activity and unless we make some changes we are not going to be giving those people the opportunity.”

She said physical activity “can make a huge difference to disabled people’s lives”.

She added: “Inactivity is really common for disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, and this is the scary bit: disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive as non-disabled people.

Unless we open doors and make things accessible and get governing bodies to think differently, and get everybody to think differently, and we get school sport to be genuinely open and inclusive, we are not going to bring about some of those changes.”

She told the meeting that families had written to her to tell her that their disabled children had been excluded from physical education at school for “all sorts of reasons” including “health and safety”.

Mike Diaper, director of children, young people and tackling inactivity for Sport England, said his organisation had invested £12 million in targeted funding to help promote physical activity for disabled people.

One of the charities it is working with is the disabled people’s organisation Disability Rights UK through the Get Yourself Active scheme, which brings together health, sport and social care, and helps disabled people use their personal budgets to take part in physical activity.

He said: “The learning that is coming out of that is the gulf between what youngsters want to do in terms of getting active and the knowledge of their social workers.”

Huw Edwards, public affairs and research director for ukactive, said his organisation worked with more than 4,000 members across the UK, with most of them from the fitness and leisure sector, but he admitted that the sector’s efforts to enable disabled people to engage in physical activity were “a work in progress” although it had “great ambition”.

He said they had access to data on more than 500 million visits to local authority leisure centres in the last five years, but there was no information on the involvement of disabled people in those trips.

Disabled people attending the meeting also raised their concerns about the barriers to accessing physical activity.

Chris Jeffery, chair of Mending the Gap, told the meeting that more should be done to improve the disability equality training of staff in gyms and leisure centres.

And Phil Shoebridge, chair of Centre of Excellence for Disability Archery in Kent, said it was becoming increasingly difficult for members of grassroots disability sports organisations to afford to hire venues run by schools and local authorities because they were so intent on maximising revenue.

7 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:45
Mar 052019
 
I am a freelance journalist working for Community Care, the online social work news site. 
 
I would like to speak to people who use social care services in England and have assessed eligible needs under the Care Act 2014 for support to access facilities in their local community and/or make friends and other relationships, to discuss how well they feel these needs are being met by local authorities. I am also looking to speak to people who have experienced a cut to their care package, which has left them unable to access their local community, take part in social activities or caused them to become socially isolated. 
 
The interviews will be used as case studies in an investigation I am working on into this type of support. You can read more about the research here: 
 
I may be able to travel to meet people in person or alternatively I can speak on the phone. Interviewees will be given a fake name in the final article to protect their identity. 
 
I can be contacted on rachel.carter@live.co.uk – hope to hear from you soon. 
 Posted by at 23:08
Mar 032019
 

Banner reading: No More Deaths on Our Streets

Friday, 15 March 2019 from 18:00-21:00, 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AT

Facebook Event Page

Hundreds of people have died homeless across the UK in the last year. Every single one is a death too many.

At least one person dies every day due to the very avoidable condition of a lack of suitable shelter, while swathes of luxurious buildings lie empty & unused..

This cannot continue! Enough is enough!

Join us to commemorate and honour those that have died and to fight back against swinging cuts to services leaving people vulnerable and the creeping criminalisation of those experiencing homelessness.

We will be meeting outside 10 Downing Street on 15 March at 6pm

This can be done anywhere & everywhere so the more cities together the better ♥

Bring your candles, banners, placards, names of those that have died. Let’s come together and demand NO MORE DEATHS ON OUR STREETS!

There ARE simple solutions.

Please spread the word and bring your friends and family.
If you are part of a group/union/anything please add your name to our call to action..
#NoMoreDeathsOnOurStreets

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 Posted by at 15:48