Day of Action on the 17th October for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now! Schedule, updates, and victories
For months, after the horror of Grenfell, it seemed that residents of other tower blocks would be left indefinitely in buildings that could, any minute, go up in flames.
Since then, with steady pressure from Grenfell survivors, residents of the blocks, housing campaigners, Fuel Poverty Action, and social housing providers pressing central government, things have begun to change.
Thousands are still left in danger of fire and cold.
It is now essential to keep up the pressure and ensure that UK homes are safe, warm and that residents organisations are listened to — not ignored and increasingly de-resourced and disempowered.
Plans are well advanced for delivering our Open Letter to the MHCLG. There is still a little time for organisations, MPs, councillors etc, to sign it – here.
Support has been pouring in for this Day of Action and for the demands on the Open Letter. Trade Unions are taking up the call, in particular the FBU, PCS, BFAWU, NEU, Unite Community, and many branches and officers of Unite and Unison.
A great addition to the Day of Action is a solidarity event outside the UK embassy in Brussels, organised by Right to Energy Coalition. Their slogan: No more fire, no more cold: End Energy Poverty! Avenue d’Auderghem 10, 040 Bruxelles, Belgium
Please do what you can in this last week to rally others, contact your MP, use social media. Please see and promote the links below.
And please, if you are in London, join us on Sunday 14 October for the Silent Walk in memory of those who lost their lives at Grenfell Tower. Let us know if you can come. https://www.fuelpovertyaction.org.uk/
What’s been won so far:
Still to be won:
Hope to see you on October 17th!
Our mailing address is:
Fuel Poverty Action
Unit 5E Punderson Gardens
London, Greater LondonE2 9QG
DWP’s secret benefit deaths reviews: Investigations into deaths doubles in two years
The number of secret reviews carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) into deaths linked to benefit claims appears to have doubled in the last two years, according to figures the information watchdog has forced the government to release.
The figures relate to the number of internal process reviews (IPRs), investigations conducted by the department into deaths and other serious and complex cases that have been linked to DWP activity.
They show that, from April 2016 to June 2018, DWP panels carried out 50 IPRs, including 33 involving the death of a benefit claimant, or roughly 1.27 death-related IPRs a month.
DWP figures previously obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) show that, between October 2014 and January 2016, there were nine IPRs involving a death, or about 0.6 a month.
These figures are only approximate, because the information about IPRs (previously known as peer reviews) provided by DWP through freedom of information responses does not provide precise dates for when each of them took place.
But they do appear to show a clear and significant increase since early 2016 in the number of IPRs carried out following deaths linked by DWP to its own activity.
They also appear to show a return to the kind of frequency of reviews related to deaths of claimants that were seen between February 2012 and October 2014, when there were 49 such reviews at a rate of about 1.5 a month, at a time when research and repeated personal testimonies showed the coalition’s social security cuts and reforms were causing severe harm and distress to claimants.
The new figures also show that 19 of the deaths in the last two years involved a claimant viewed as “vulnerable”, while six of the IPRs (and four deaths) related to a claimant of the government’s new and much-criticised universal credit (see separate story).
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said ministers “always get up at the despatch box and say they are continually improving the system. This proves that to be false.
“Universal credit should be scrapped, sanctions should be scrapped and the government should call off the dogs, because it is leading to people’s deaths.”
McArdle said that if there was a tragedy involving the deaths of 33 people in a train crash there would be an independent inquiry into what went wrong.
But because these deaths were happening in the social security system, he said, no such public inquiry would take place.
He added: “It just shows a callous disregard for the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.”
A DWP spokeswoman declined to say whether the figures showed that DWP’s treatment of vulnerable and other benefit claimants had not improved significantly since 2012 and had worsened in the last two years.
She also declined to say if DWP was concerned that there had already been four IPRs following the death of a universal credit claimant, even though only a small number of people are currently claiming UC.
But she said in a statement: “The government is committed to supporting the vulnerable and DWP staff are trained to identify and support people in hardship.
“They can apply special easements to people’s claims and signpost to appropriate local support services.
“IPRs do not seek to identify or apportion blame. They are used as a performance improvement tool that help the department to continually improve how it deals with some of the most complex and challenging cases.”
DWP only released the figures to DNS this week after the Information Commissioner’s Office had reminded the department of its duties under the Freedom of Information Act.
The information was requested on 21 June and should have been provided within 20 working days.
But it was only emailed this week, after ICO wrote to DWP following a complaint lodged by DNS about the department’s failure to respond to the request.
20 September 2018
DWP’s secret benefit deaths reviews: Universal credit death linked to claimant commitment ‘threats’
A secret Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) review into the death of a claimant of universal credit (UC) has criticised the “overtly threatening” nature of the conditions they had to accept when signing up to the new benefit system.
The conclusion by a panel of civil servants relates to just one of 33 deaths, all linked to DWP activity, that have been subject to what are called “internal process reviews” (IPRs) since April 2016.
Brief details of these 33 deaths, and another 17 IPRs carried out into other serious or complex cases involving DWP activity, have been released to Disability News Service by DWP following a freedom of information request.
The panel of reviewers who carried out the IPR into the death linked to universal credit said that it seemed “excessive” for DWP to include eight references to sanctions and how much money a claimant would lose if they breached their “claimant commitment”.
The panel added: “…a better balance could be struck in reminding a client of the consequences of not meeting their obligations and not appearing to be overtly threatening, especially to individuals who are vulnerable.”
DWP has so far refused to say if it altered the claimant commitment – which sets out what conditions a universal credit claimant needs to meet to continue receiving the benefit – as a result of the IPR.
Further details of the circumstances of the death have not been released, as DWP is only obliged to release the recommendations made following each IPR (formerly known as peer reviews), rather than anything that could identify the subject of the review.
Of the 50 IPRs carried out since April 2016, six involved a universal credit claimant, and in four of these cases the claimant had died.
It is also not yet clear whether DWP acted on any of the other recommendations in the IPRs, but the case is likely to raise fresh concerns about the impact of the introduction of universal claimant on disabled people, and others in vulnerable situations.
It will also alarm those who have spent years highlighting concerns about the ongoing impact on disabled people of eight years of benefit cuts and reforms under successive Conservative-led governments.
DWP rules state that the department must carry out an IPR when it is “made aware of the death of a client and it is suggested that it is linked to DWP activity”.
Of all the reviews, four appear to include recommendations for improvements only to local procedures, with another eight (including three IPRs relating to a universal credit claimant) making recommendations for changes to national policy or practice.
One review reminded DWP “customer compliance officers” of the existence of the “six point plan”, which tells staff how to respond if they learn that a benefit claimant suggests they intend to kill themselves or self-harm.
The recommendations that followed another IPR appear to suggest that a “vulnerable” claimant died after DWP failed to carry out a “safeguarding visit” to check on their welfare when they did not return a form explaining why they had missed a work capability assessment (WCA).
Another IPR appears to have investigated a similar death, involving a vulnerable claimant with a mental health condition who failed to turn up for a WCA. That claimant also died.
One case that appears to have led only to recommendations for improvements locally suggests further poor practice by DWP, with the IPR saying that “we should have considered whether [information redacted] was a vulnerable customer and if there were safeguarding issues”.
It adds that DWP’s customer service was “also poor” for apparently telling the vulnerable claimant something before he or she died, although because the end of the sentence has been redacted by DWP it is not clear what was said.
In another case – although this claimant did not die – DWP staff appear to have failed to pick up on references to “suicide” in the online journal that universal credit claimants must keep up-to-date.
One DWP manager told the Independent last October that many universal credit case managers were overwhelmed by their workload and often had dozens of “unseen journal messages they simply don’t have enough time to address”.
The manager also told the website that many colleagues “feel out of their depth with the quantity of claims they manage, resulting in a vast amount of crucial work never being completed until claimants contact us when their payments are inevitably paid incorrectly or not at all”.
In another IPR that followed a claimant’s death, the panel reminded the department that all staff involved in making decisions on benefit claims must be “reminded of the need to make timeous decisions” relating to benefit sanctions.
Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “The connections between the DWP’s actions and the deaths of social security claimants are extremely concerning.
“These figures reveal the devastating impact universal credit is having on disabled people.
“It is shocking that the government is continuing with its roll-out, in spite of this evidence.
“The government must now pause the roll-out and end the hostile environment they have created for disabled people.
“We urgently need an independent investigation into the connections outlined in the internal reviews, before more lives are ruined.”
A spokesperson for Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said the information released by DWP “highlights failures at many levels”.
DPAC also criticised the IPR panel for suggesting that the key problem with the case involving the universal credit claimant whose death was linked to the “overtly threatening” claimant commitment was with the wording of the document.
The DPAC spokesperson said: “The panel does not address the issue. It is not the wording which needs to be reconsidered, but the fact that claimants deemed vulnerable can be bullied, threatened and intimidated by DWP to a point that their death became the subject of an internal review.
“The concerns about universal credit and its potential for severe harm have now been confirmed.”
The DPAC spokesperson added: “The internal process reviews give a glimpse into the living hell of claimants, where the reckless actions of benefits staff brought grievous harm, extreme distress and fatalities onto benefit claimants.
“And we are already seeing deaths of claimants under universal credit.
“If all the other warnings about universal credit were not enough, this should surely give the government an undeniable indication that they must stop their new hostile environment benefits system.
“To do anything else would mean that the government are knowingly about to bring yet more future deaths of benefit claimants.”
John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “You can see the guidelines regarding vulnerable people are not being followed consistently.
“With the introduction of universal credit, it shows people’s lives are being placed at risk.
“DWP are still playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.
“Universal credit must be stopped in its tracks and it must be scrapped.”
A DWP spokeswoman declined to say how many of the IPR recommendations have been acted on.
She also declined to say whether the universal credit “claimant commitment” recommendations had been acted on, and whether they had been a concern to ministers.
And she declined to say if DWP was concerned that there had been four IPRs following the death of universal credit claimants.
But she said in a statement: “The government is committed to supporting the vulnerable and DWP staff are trained to identify and support people in hardship.
“They can apply special easements to people’s claims and signpost to appropriate local support services.
“IPRs do not seek to identify or apportion blame. They are used as a performance improvement tool that help the department to continually improve how it deals with some of the most complex and challenging cases.”
The latest information about the IPRs was only released by DWP after the Information Commissioner’s Office reminded the department of its duties under the Freedom of Information Act.
The information was requested on 21 June and should have been provided within 20 working days.
But it was only emailed this week, after ICO wrote to DWP following a complaint lodged by DNS about the department’s failure to respond to the request.
20 September 2018
Ministers quietly drop plans for ‘parallel process’ on working-age social care
Ministers have quietly decided to include the support needs of working-age disabled people in their new social care green paper, scrapping the idea of having a separate “parallel programme of work” as they try to address the social care funding crisis.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) previously said it would focus only on older people’s social care in its much-delayed green paper.
The decision to include working-age people’s support needs is likely to be welcomed by most disabled people’s organisations, but DHSC is still facing questions over why it reversed its decision at such a late stage and why it has apparently failed to make any effort to co-produce its policy with disabled people and their user-led organisations.
There are also still concerns over whether the green paper will side-line the support needs of working-age disabled people when it is eventually published.
As recently as last month, a House of Commons Library briefing paper referred to the government’s “parallel process” of work on social care for working-age adults.
But a DHSC spokeswoman has now told DNS that the green paper will “cover care and support for adults of all ages (rather than there being a separate workstream)”.
When questioned further about this, she said: “We have always planned to consider issues relating to all adults receiving social care.
“This will now be taken forward through a single green paper.”
She declined to comment when asked why the government had made this decision, but said disabled people and their organisations – and other “interested parties” – would be able to feed in their views in a consultation on the green paper, when it is published.
The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who chairs the Independent Living Strategy Group, told Disability News Service (DNS): “It would have been nice to be informed of this decision to scrap the parallel process by my fellow parliamentarians in the House of Lords, especially as I had asked formally on two occasions for any progress on the ‘parallel process’.
“So much for close collaboration with disabled people on matters that concern them directly!”
But she welcomed the decision to integrate working-age people into the green paper, which she hoped would be on an equal basis with older people.
She said: “This way, disabled people will not be a tag on, or afterthought, but have full green paper status.
“This is how it should be and something I said most firmly at the first meeting of ‘stakeholders’ with the ministers for disabled people [Sarah Newton], social care [Caroline Dinenage] and local government [Rishi Sunak].”
Baroness Campbell said that this meeting, in February, was the “first and only time” she has been consulted on the government’s social care plans.
She was also highly critical of the plans to simply consult disabled people after the green paper has been published, partly because she has been “highly sceptical of any consultation this government has conducted on pretty much any issue recently”.
She added: “Whatever happened to the progress we made with governments over the last 20 years on co-production, mutuality and equal involvement from the prototype stage?
“Disabled people don’t want to be consulted about policies which will determine the way they live, we want partnerships. Remember: ‘nothing about us, without us!’”
The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, who speaks for her party on disability in the Lords and is also a member of the Independent Living Strategy Group, said there was continuing “despair” over when the green paper would eventually be published.
She said the news that working-age disabled people would now be included in the green paper “could be good news [but] it could be bad news” as it could either mean a “breath of fresh air” or signify that working-age disabled people will be “an after-thought”.
She added: “Everyone is in the dark.”
The news of the government U-turn emerged following a freedom of information request submitted by DNS, which had asked which committees and working groups had been set up as part of the parallel process, and which organisations were represented on them.
The department said in its response that “no such committees or formal working groups including stakeholders have been set up” as part of its work on working-age social care.
But she said the government had “engaged informally with a number of stake-holders and the insights from this work will inform the social care green paper”.
A DHSC spokeswoman declined to say which organisations it had engaged with, but she said: “We are grateful for the input of stakeholders to the work we have done to date and there will be an opportunity for all interested parties to feed in views through the green paper consultation process.”
DNS reported in March how the government had failed to set up a single committee involving experts from outside the two departments examining the future of working-age social care – DHSC and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government – nearly four months after the parallel programme of work had been announced.
The previous month, ministers had faced criticism after organising a “round table” event on working-age social care without inviting any disabled people’s organisations to attend.
The green paper has always been described by ministers as a document that would lay out the government’s proposals for the future funding of older people’s social care, with a separate programme of work looking at the care needs of working-age disabled people.
But there have been repeated concerns that the government was failing to make any progress on this parallel process and failing to engage with disabled people and their user-led organisations.
The much-delayed green paper is set to be published this autumn.
20 September 2018
New job stats raise questions over ministers’ boasts on disability employment
New figures obtained by a disabled people’s organisation – after ministers refused to commission the work themselves – appear to show how the government relies on the growth in self-employment and part-time jobs to exaggerate its success in increasing disability employment.
Ministers such as work and pensions secretary Esther McVey have repeatedly boasted of how their policies have led to hundreds of thousands more disabled people in work over the last five years.
But those claims have been based on figures provided by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which includes in its measure of “employment” people who are in part-time work, are self-employed, or are on government training and jobs programmes.
Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to commission work from ONS – which it told Disability News Service would cost just £125 (plus VAT) – that would show the full, detailed figures.
Now London’s pan-disability disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London has commissioned the work itself from ONS, at the same price of £125 plus VAT.
The new ONS figures* obtained by Inclusion London show that nearly half of the increase in disability employment in the last four years has been due to disabled people becoming self-employed or taking part-time jobs.
Between 2013-14 and 2017-18, the number of full-time disabled employees rose by about 383,000, while the number of disabled people in part-time jobs, self-employment, government training programmes and employed as unpaid family workers increased by about 366,000.
During this period, the number of disabled people in self-employment increased by more than 22 per cent, when the number of non-disabled people who were self-employed rose by just nine per cent.
The increase in the number of disabled people in part-time self-employment increased even faster, by about 25 per cent.
There was, though, also a sharp increase of about 22.5 per cent in full-time disabled employees over the four years, although the number of part-time disabled employees rose even faster, by about 27.5 per cent.
Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, pointed to the high number of disabled people who had become self-employed.
She said: “Research by the New Economics Foundation in 2017 found more than half of all self-employed people don’t make a decent living.
“This is even more of an issue for disabled people, whose outgoings tend to be much higher due to unavoidable impairment-related expenditure.
“Anecdotally we have heard about disabled people feeling pressured by their jobcentre to consider becoming self-employed.”
Clifford also highlighted the high proportion of disabled people who have taken part-time jobs.
She said: “This will include things like zero hours contracts which can again easily fail to provide the security, conditions and income levels that disabled people need.
“Studies have confirmed that unsuitable employment is worse for people’s health than no employment.”
She urged the government to “look at the types of jobs and work that disabled people are moving or potentially being pushed into and to address issues of quality instead of making the aim to get people off out-of-work benefits at any cost”.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said DWP had yet again “botched” its analysis of statistics.
She said: “Disabled people are particularly over-represented amongst the self-employed and as most people are aware, self-employment is often a route to employment taken by those excluded from mainstream labour markets.
“The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) have revealed that self-employed workers [can end up] £3,000 per annum worse off than those in employment with the roll-out of universal credit and are calling on the government, like DPAC, to stop this roll-out.
“They highlight too the instability of income that self-employment creates and the negative impact this has on the wellbeing of those working in this sector.”
A DWP spokeswoman declined to comment about the part-time work figures and whether the government agreed with calls to look at the types and quality of work disabled people are moving into.
But she said: “We welcome recent increases in the disability employment rate, with 600,000 more disabled people in work between 2013 and 2017.
“This analysis shows that employment and self-employment for disabled people both increased by around a fifth between 2013-14 and 2016-17.”
*It is not possible to compare today’s figures with 2009-10, before the Conservative-led coalition came to power, because of a change in in 2013 in how the survey data ONS uses to calculate its figures was collected
20 September 2018
Lib Dem conference: Universal credit migration is set for disaster, warns Lloyd
The impact of the “migration” of hundreds of thousands of disabled people onto universal credit from next year could prove disastrous because of the “hoops” the government will force claimants to leap through, according to a disabled MP.
Stephen Lloyd, work and pensions spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said the migration process was set to be “a disaster” for those disabled people currently claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), including many people with learning difficulties and mental health conditions.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is set to start testing the process of moving hundreds of thousands of existing ESA claimants – its estimates suggest it will eventually need to “migrate” 750,000 – onto universal credit from January, and intends to “increase volumes” by July and complete the process in 2023.
ESA claimants will be among those receiving a letter telling them that their existing benefits are about to stop and that they will need to make a new claim for universal credit.
They will have to fill out an online application, and then make at least one and possibly two, or even three, visits to their local job centre in the space of just one month, to validate their claim.
If they fail to do this, said Lloyd – who was speaking to Disability News Service at his party’s annual conference in Brighton – they will get “kicked out” and be left with no benefits, as their ESA claim will have ended.
A DWP memo, produced in June, said the department would give claimants at least one month to make their claim, although there will be “flexibility for this period to be extended” to up to three months.
But Lloyd said: “What on earth is going to happen? You have got to do all this in a month, otherwise you’re going to be kicked off. That’s going to be catastrophic.
“We have got to stop this, it’s ridiculous. It’s not going to work.”
He has written to work and pensions secretary Esther McVey to seek clarification on what claimants will be asked to do.
Lloyd said: “I have to get the minister to understand you have to give them more time, otherwise there is going to be a car crash.”
His hope is that pressure on McVey through parliamentary questions and an early day motion will force her to back down and ease the conditions imposed on claimants before regulations are laid before parliament in October.
Concerns about the migration have also been raised by the mental health charity Mind, which said: “Many people experiencing mental health problems have told us they are extremely worried about what these proposals will mean for them.
“As people begin to move over to universal credit, we are concerned people will fall through the cracks, and see their benefits stopped entirely.
“It’s appalling to place all the responsibility on unwell people to reapply for a new benefit and risk losing their income in the process.
“The government should change their plans so that no-one faces having their benefits stopped before they move to universal credit.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are working closely with stakeholders and other parties to design the best possible process for the migration of our customers to universal credit.
“Our focus will be on safeguarding claimants and ensuring a smooth transition with uninterrupted support.
“Based on early planning there is no evidence to indicate that claimants would need to come into the jobcentre so frequently and therefore we do not recognise this claim.
“We plan to have a comprehensive and well-supported preparation period for claimants which will include a variety of communication formats, including face-to-face, internet and postal notification, to ensure claimants are aware of the managed migration process.
“There is flexibility to extend that period if necessary; and a process to ensure that, before the existing benefits are stopped, our staff will check for evidence of complex needs or vulnerability or disability and act accordingly to support the claimant.
“Additionally, if a claimant misses their deadline to claim there are provisions in the draft regulations that will allow DWP to back-date their claim.”
Lloyd said he has already tried locally to ensure that the impact of universal credit and other welfare reforms would not be as serious as it has been in other constituencies.
He brought food banks, housing association representatives, Citizen’s Advice and his own staff together in advance of the rollout of universal credit in his Eastbourne constituency last October, which he said helped ensure there was much less of a spike in the use of food banks in the town than in other similar constituencies.
Lloyd also believes that he is the only MP in the country who allocates a member of staff to attend regular benefit appeal tribunals on behalf of constituents.
So far this year, the staff member has attended about 70 tribunals (with a success rate of about 70 per cent).
During Lloyd’s previous stint as an MP, between 2010 and 2015, the same member of staff attended about 150 tribunals in four years.
He said: “As far as I know, no other MP’s office in the country sends one of their staff [so] regularly to tribunals.
“I basically lose him for three-quarters of a day a week, but it is the right thing to do.”
Meanwhile, tributes have been paid to the co-chair of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association (LDDA), Robert Adamson, who died just days before the conference began.
Born in Doncaster, and a retired civil servant, he was a former parliamentary candidate for the party and also stood in European and local elections, and was a former chair of the party’s Yorkshire and Humber region.
Baroness [Sal] Brinton, the party’s president, told the conference: “Robert never let his very disabling condition get in the way of campaigning locally and nationally.”
And Gemma Roulston, previously LDDA co-chair and now the association’s chair, said: “He wanted to improve the lives of people with or without disabilities, and anyone who was impacted by disability.
“He was always there for you, and was a good person to go to for advice and support.
“Conference hasn’t felt the same without him. He made a difference to people.”
20 September 2018
TUC piles pressure on Labour with vote to scrap universal credit
Trade unions have voted at their annual congress to call on the Labour party to shift its stance on universal credit and promise to scrap the controversial benefit system.
The annual TUC Congress approved a motion last week that had already been passed by disabled trade unionists at May’s TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference.
The motion called on TUC’s general council to tell the next Labour government to “stop and scrap” universal credit and carry out “far-reaching social security reform that truly makes work pay” and protects those unable to work.
Labour’s policy is currently to simply “pause and fix” universal credit rather than scrapping it.
The motion said universal credit – which combines six benefits into one – was a “draconian” system that had left many people in “debt, eviction and hunger”.
It pointed out that workers could – for the first time – face “savage sanctions for not demonstrating that they are seeking to improve their paid income”, while “part-time workers could be forced to leave work that suits their disability or family life for a worse paid, full-time job”.
Dave Allan, chair of the national disabled members’ committee of Unite the Union, proposed the motion on behalf of the TUC disabled workers’ committee, and it was seconded by Mandy Hudson, of the National Education Union.
Allan told delegates that the disabled workers’ committee had worked tirelessly to warn of the impact of universal credit and its roll-out, which he said would “fall like a hammer blow upon seven million households – including one million low-paid workers”.
He said there had been an “utter lack of support” for disabled claimants, while the “cruel programme of sanctions” was “landing on claimants like a series of bureaucratic punishment beatings”.
Allan said the “misery” and “destruction” caused by universal credit was no accident.
He said: “This is the cold, calculated and systematic impoverishment of disabled people. This is malice by design.”
He added: “A pause of the roll-out will not do. We are not just calling on the government to simply ‘think again’.
“We are calling for the immediate, unconditional and total ban on universal credit.”
Allan told Disability News Service this week that the TUC vote had been unanimous and that the next step was to persuade the Labour party to commit to scrapping universal credit and include that pledge in its manifesto for the next general election.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady added: “All politicians need to look at the disastrous effects universal credit is having around the UK, at how hard disabled people have been hit and how it is pushing people into rent arrears and poverty, leaving them turning to food banks.
“The roll out of universal credit should be stopped, before it continues to inflict more damage.
“And a fundamental rethink is required of the social security system, and how it can deliver a fair and dignified system for everyone.”
A TUC spokesman stressed afterwards that O’Grady was calling for universal credit to be scrapped and not just to “stop and fix” the system.
He said: “The TUC policy is not stop and fix. Our congress endorsed a policy of stop and scrap.
“The immediate priority has to be to stop the rollout, as that is the immediate danger to disabled people.
“But the current universal credit is not fit for purpose and TUC staff will now pursue the direction set by congress by developing policy for a system to succeed it that better meets the needs of disabled people and others who rely on social security.”
20 September 2018
Lib Dem conference: Members vote for rights-based reform to mental health laws
Liberal Democrats have called for an end to “discriminatory” laws that allow people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties who have capacity to make their own decisions to be detained against their will.
Current mental health legislation means that a person assessed as needing urgent medical treatment and assessment because of a “mental disorder” can be detained in hospital against their will.
But party members argued that detaining people based on whether they have a “mental disorder” was discriminatory, a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and discouraged people from being open about their mental health.
Party members voted at their annual conference in Brighton this week to demand sweeping reform of the law in England and Wales, despite substantial opposition.
They agreed that people with mental health conditions or learning difficulties should not be forced to have medical treatment unless they do not have the capacity to make a decision about whether they wish to have that treatment.
And they said that people should be able to make advance decisions – as defined in the Mental Capacity Act – to refuse detention or treatment.
They also fended off efforts from some party members to amend the motion so that individuals could be forced to be treated and detained, even if they had capacity, if their refusal would pose a serious risk of harm to themselves or others.
One delegate compared the current legislation to historic witchcraft and slavery laws, and the Spanish Inquisition.
He and others argued that people who have capacity to make their own decisions, but have a mental health condition or learning difficulty, should not face the possibility of being detained against their wishes in hospital.
Henry Jones, who has a degenerative neurological condition, described how he had been held against his will in hospital for six months.
He had spoken at the time of wanting to end his own life because of his condition, and as a result “two large men showed up at my home” and took him into detention in a locked mental health ward.
He told delegates: “Even with my condition I had capacity. They treated me like an animal, they did everything they could to break me.
“It achieved nothing except to make me never ever want to engage with mental health services.”
But, he said, it did “make me want to reform the law before passing on”.
He said that if he had been treated “like a human” by mental health professionals he could have “talked openly about what was happening in my brain… it would have saved me and others around me four years of hell”.
He added: “All I am asking for is for us to have the same basic human dignity that other people have.”
Another party member, Andrew Muir, told the conference how his wife had been sectioned in 2006 after she complained about treatment she had received at a Scottish hospital.
She was forced to take medication while in detention for 51 days – when there was no evidence of mental ill-health – and was physically abused by staff, and then forced to take drugs for another year when she was released on a community order.
He also said that the review of the Mental Health Act 1983 – being led by psychiatrist Professor Sir Simon Wessely – should instead be led by a human rights expert.
Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton also spoke in favour of the motion.
He said: “In Scotland – and I am sure south of the border – we are stripping people of their basic right to be heard.
“People in the grip of mental illness, that’s when their human rights matter most.”
A string of mental health professionals spoke against the motion, including one who accused it of “muddle” and being “full of misconceptions”, and another who said it was “unworkable and not sensible” and would remove protections that were available in the Mental Health Act.
But one psychiatrist, Mohsin Khan, who supported the motion, pointed out that similar laws to those suggested had been introduced in some US states and Northern Ireland.
He said the motion “merely brings mental health in line with what happens with physical health”, and would allow adults “who have consistent, long-term capacity to rationally decide to make decisions for their own body for the future”.
20 September 2018
Pair of projects set to improve countryside access
User-led organisations have played a key role in two major new projects that aim to improve access for disabled tourists and ramblers.
In Oxfordshire, Natural England has opened the National Land Access Centre (NLAC), which will provide training for landowners, farmers and rights of way officers on how to ensure that gates and other countryside obstructions are accessible to disabled people.
And in Lancashire, Blackpool-based disabled people’s organisation (DPO) Disability First is celebrating a government grant of nearly £1 million for a project that will improve access to the Fylde, Wyre and Blackpool coastline.
NLAC, based at Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve, will offer training courses that show how to use, maintain and install fences, barriers and stiles that meet a new British Standard, which was published in February.
Natural England, the government’s advisers on the natural environment, has worked closely on the plans with the user-led charity Disabled Ramblers, and project partners The British Horse Society, the specialist gate supplier Centrewire and the Pittecroft Trust.
John Cutherbertson, chair of Disabled Ramblers, told Disability News Service (DNS): “There is a huge swathe of the population who cannot clamber over stiles.
“What we found is the main thing that stops people accessing the countryside is the lack of understanding by those people who are putting these gates in.
“Some of them still think that the less able would prefer to stay at home and watch the telly.
“They don’t realise that people want to get out there and need to get out there for their mental health as well as their physical well-being.”
He said Disabled Ramblers was trying to educate these groups, such as farmers, landowners and rights of way officers, about the “least restrictive” way to enclose land, and ideally install gates that disabled people can open and close on their own, without needing someone with them.
He said he hoped that the selection of gates and barriers on show at the centre would grow and would be joined eventually by accessible versions of other equipment, such as bridges and boardwalks.
Disabled Ramblers has provided an off-road mobility scooter to the centre so people who take the courses can use the vehicle to see how difficult it can be to manoeuvre through such obstacles.
Cuthbertson said that Centrewire, which was founded by Tom Bindoff, a non-disabled member of Disabled Ramblers, had been keen to modify its products to make them more accessible.
Bindoff has even designed a “kissing gate” that can be opened by a scooter-user using a RADAR key, he said.
The disabled Tory peer Lord Blencathra, deputy chair of Natural England, said: “Improved access will help to connect more people with their natural environment, giving them a chance to enjoy our countryside, its open space and fascinating wildlife – all key aspects of the government’s 25 year environment plan.”
Meanwhile, funding of £985,000 has been awarded to a consortium led by Disability First through the government’s Coastal Communities Fund.
Alan Reid, chief executive of Disability First, said his organisation was “thrilled and very proud” to be awarded the funding in its 25th year as a charity.
He said he wanted the Fylde, Blackpool and Wyre coast to “strive to become a more truly inclusive resort”.
The Access Fylde Coast project is supported by Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre councils, Blackpool Transport, Marketing Lancashire, Lancaster University, the access information provider DisabledGo, Blackpool’s Coastal Community Team and the area’s local Volunteering Centre.
Reid said the project, which will last nearly two years, was “exciting and unique”.
He told DNS the scheme would improve access for both visitors and residents by offering free access audits and disability awareness training to local shops and businesses.
The project will also develop a culture and heritage mobile phone app, linked to existing apps offered by Blackpool Transport and DisabledGo, and which will include a British Sign Language interpretation service.
He said: “This will support people with a variety of disabilities with tram and bus access once they step off the train station in Blackpool and venues will have details of their particular disabled facilities and heritage information on the app.”
The project also plans to showcase professional disabled performers at Blackpool Opera House theatre and disabled artists in a local art gallery, and improve access at existing events including the Blackpool Illuminations switch-on and Lytham Festival.
He said there was also the possibility that a disabled performer could perform at, or even switch on, the illuminations next year.
On a visit to Lytham Saint Annes, coastal communities minister Jake Berry said: “It’s really exciting to see money from the Coastal Communities Fund help kick-start these shovel-ready projects, which have the potential to unlock the barriers to development and growth in our coastal communities.”
The Coastal Communities Fund was established to support coastal projects in the UK to deliver sustainable growth and jobs.
20 September 2018
Lib Dem conference: Party anger over DPAC’s ‘don’t vote Lib Dem’ call
Two leading disabled Liberal Democrats have criticised anti-cuts activists over their public call for disabled people not to vote for their party.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) published a high-profile message on social media this week during the party’s annual conference in Brighton, warning that disabled people “won’t forget” and “won’t forgive” its junior role in the coalition government between 2010 and 2015.
But David Buxton, the co-founder of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, who has worked on campaigns with DPAC, said he would no longer support its work because of the message.
The party’s work and pensions spokesman, Stephen Lloyd, was also critical of DPAC.
But DPAC, which is not aligned with any political party, has defended its position.
It said it held the Liberal Democrats “jointly responsible” for coalition cuts and reforms such as the closure of the Independent Living Fund, damaging policies on the work capability assessment (WCA), the bedroom tax and the introduction of personal independence payment and universal credit.
It also pointed to the coalition’s “hostile environment benefits regime” and the “avoidable deaths and suicides of benefit claimants during the coalition years”.
DPAC added: “Our message to the Liberal Democrats is – you don’t get to walk away from your actions in those years – disabled people will remember.”
But Buxton said he was “very disappointed” by the DPAC message because he had been “very supportive of their work which has been excellent and has been important in stopping further cuts.
“Their job is to stop the cuts and we have been very supportive of that.”
He told Disability News Service at the party’s annual conference in Brighton that the coalition years had been “a very difficult time” and the Liberal Democrats had “tried to stop further cuts and were successful in stopping those cuts, but there were areas where the books had to be balanced”.
He asked why DPAC was not criticising Labour in a similar way.
He said Labour’s last government had rejected pleas from Deaf people for a British Sign Language act and had also been responsible for cutting disability services during its 13 years of office, while many Labour-run councils were now cutting services even though some, like Hammersmith and Fulham, had managed to protect disabled people from cuts.
He said: “Should Deaf people say they never forgive the Labour party? Thankfully, Labour have now changed their mind [on the need for a BSL act].”
He added: “Political parties can change. We have changed as a party. We are no longer in coalition government.
“There has been a change in leadership and we do recognise that we have to find ways of creating new policy that would be fairer and we will demand better for disabled people.”
Lloyd said DPAC’s message was “very disappointing” and ignored the fact that Labour brought in the WCA and awarded the contract to carry out the assessments to the much-criticised contractor Atos.
He said he was “proud” of what his party had achieved in coalition when facing “very challenging issues” with the economy, although there had been “some decisions in DWP that were wrong” and “others that were right”.
But Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “We are not party political and we will criticise any party as we see fit.
“We will be publicly criticising Labour over their ‘pause and fix’ policy for universal credit during their conference and we’ve been very vocal in criticising Labour in the past.
“We’ve also criticised the Green party over their policy on assisted suicide.
“And we have been very critical of the actions of Labour councils.
“The Lib Dems have Vince Cable as leader, who was a cabinet minister in the coalition, and many of their MPs were MPs in the coalition and voted for Tory welfare reform.
“Just as the tweet says, ‘They don’t get to walk away from that.’”
20 September 2018
Lib Dem conference: Lloyd backtracks on support for Duncan Smith
A Liberal Democrat MP who has supported Tory former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith has admitted he gave him “more benefit of the doubt” than he should have done during the five years of the coalition government.
Stephen Lloyd, who served on the Commons work and pensions committee while Liberal Democrat ministers were serving in the coalition government between 2010 and 2015, has previously defended Duncan Smith.
And during this week’s annual party conference in Brighton, he told a fringe meeting that Duncan Smith had had some good ideas about the importance of employment in addressing disadvantage but had been undermined by right-wing papers like the Daily Mail publishing stories about benefit “scroungers”.
When asked later about this statement by Disability News Service (DNS), Lloyd said he had challenged Duncan Smith in parliament on his inappropriate language.
But he insisted that DNS was only “half right” in suggesting that Duncan Smith was responsible for whipping up hostility in tabloid papers like the Mail.
DNS then repeated comments Duncan Smith had told The Sun in late 2010 in which he said he had been “appalled” at how easy it has been in the past for people to claim incapacity benefit and cheat the system and said that Sun readers were right to be “upset and angry” when they saw neighbours who do not work.
Duncan Smith also told the Sun that Britain had “managed to create a block of people” who “do not add anything to the greatness of this country” and had “become conditioned to be users of services, not providers of money.
“This is a huge part of the reason we have this massive deficit.
“We don’t want to talk about scroungers in the future, we want to talk about British people being renowned the world over for working hard.”
Lloyd said again that he had challenged Duncan Smith over the language he had used.
But he said he now acknowledged that in his own zeal to see more people in work, he could have overlooked the harm caused by Duncan Smith and his supporters.
He said: “I think I did and I acknowledge that. In recognising that Iain Duncan Smith got the importance of jobs I can see that in coalition there were times when I would have given him more benefit of the doubt than I should have done.”
20 September 2018
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com
Since our first march against Tory austerity cuts in 2010 thousands of disabled people have been killed by the Tory’s policies and mindless cruelty. Thousands more have lost vital funding for independent living support and are either trapped in care homes or their own homes. Continent disabled people have been refused the human support they need to go to the toilet and instead been left with packs of incontinence pads.Others are being charged into further poverty as local authorities hike up their charges for social care.
This year on our 8th anniversary we’re going back to the Tory Party Conference in Birmingham to make sure we are not forgotten and to highlight once more the grave and systematic violations of our human rights which we have endured for 8 long years.
Join us on Wednesday October 3rd in Birmingham.
Meet for 11.30 am outside Birmingham Council House, Victoria Square or if raining heavily in Starbucks on Colmore Row just to the right of it.
Bring things to make noise with and earplugs.Some funding available for travel costs priority will go to full members of DPAC but if you need help email firstname.lastname@example.org
DWP breaks law over secret reports on universal credit deaths
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is refusing to release evidence that would show how many secret reports it has compiled into the deaths of claimants of its new universal credit, in a fresh breach of freedom of information laws.
DWP compiles an internal process review every time a “suicide is associated with DWP activity”, as well as in some other cases involving the deaths of disabled or “vulnerable” benefit claimants.
The last batch of reviews released by DWP were published in heavily redacted form two years ago.
But Disability News Service (DNS) is keen to secure evidence of how many reviews have been carried out since then relating to the introduction of the much-criticised universal credit benefit system.
Repeated concerns have been raised about the introduction of universal credit and its impact on claimants in vulnerable situations.
Disabled activists have warned that universal credit is “rotten to the core” and have warned of “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.
In June, a report by the National Audit Office said DWP was failing to support “vulnerable” claimants and was unable to monitor how they were being treated under universal credit.
In July, employment minister Alok Sharma was asked by MPs on the Commons work and pensions committee why the benefits of hundreds of sick and disabled universal credit claimants were apparently being sanctioned, even though they should not have had to meet any of the strict conditions imposed by the system.
In the same month, further concerns were raised by the committee about disabled people with high support needs who claim universal credit and face the possibility of strict conditions – such as being forced to carry out hours of job searches every week – as they wait for a work capability assessment.
And MPs on the public accounts committee heard, also in July, how claimants were facing “considerable hardship and considerable deterioration in their mental health” because of universal credit.
As a result of earlier concerns about universal credit, DNS submitted a freedom of information request to DWP on 21 June, asking how many internal process reviews had been carried out since April 2016; how many involved a claimant who had died; and how many involved a claimant of universal credit.
The request also asked for DWP to release the recommendations made by each review.
But DWP’s freedom of information team has failed to respond to the request, and to a follow-up email on 7 August asking why it had not replied, even though it is legally obliged to respond within 20 working days under the Freedom of Information Act.
A legal case taken by DNS secured the publication of redacted versions of DWP’s secret reports – then known as peer reviews – for the first time in 2016, thanks to the pro bono legal work of barrister Elizabeth Kelsey, from Monckton Chambers.
The information rights tribunal ruled in 2016 that DWP should release recommendations from all the peer reviews it held, although not any information directly related to the people who died.
A further batch of redacted reviews into another nine benefit-related deaths was released by DWP later in 2016, following pressure from the Information Commissioner’s Office, but it is believed that no further reports have been released since then.
Last week, DNS revealed how DWP had refused to release other secret reports connected with its welfare reforms, this time those written by disabled people who had been recruited as “community partners” to work with its jobcentres.
When asked why DWP’s freedom of information team had refused to respond to the internal process review request, a DWP spokeswoman said: “As explained last week, any issues relating to FOI requests can be dealt with by writing to email@example.com.
“If you are unhappy with the handling of an FOI request please contact the Information Commissioner’s Office.”
DNS will be lodging a complaint with the information commissioner about DWP’s failure to release the internal process reviews.
23 August 2018
Minister snubs DPOs – and ‘breaches UN convention’ – by refusing meeting
The minister for disabled people is refusing to meet a coalition of disabled people’s organisations, in an apparent breach of the UN disability convention.
The coalition wrote to Sarah Newton yesterday (Wednesday) to express its “deep disappointment and concern” about her refusal to meet them to discuss the UK’s failure to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
The letter, signed by 14 prominent disabled leaders, asks Newton: “How can the government improve the lives of disabled people if it is not engaging directly with disabled people?”
The UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government last September in its “concluding observations” that it needed to make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.
In its review of the UK’s implementation of CRPD, the committee raised concerns and made recommendations on all but three of the 33 treaty articles the UK could have breached.
Newton’s letter refusing a meeting was sent on 10 July, two weeks before international development secretary Penny Mordaunt told an international disability rights conference in London: “When disabled people are included, great things happen.”
Mordaunt and her civil servants spent much of the Global Disability Summit last month telling other countries and organisations to sign up to a new Charter for Change.
The charter calls on those signing it to “hold ourselves and others to account for the promises we have made here today” and to “strive for real change” through implementation of CRPD.
CRPD says (in article four) that governments must, in implementing the convention, “closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities… through their representative organizations”.
It also says (article 33) that “civil society, in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organizations, shall be involved and participate fully” in monitoring the implementation of the convention in each country.
Newton’s letter appears to breach both article four and article 33 as the coalition has been seeking a ministerial meeting since February.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, one of the coalition’s members, says in yesterday’s letter: “We are extremely disappointed that as minister for disabled people you are not able to find the time to meet with the only UK wide coalition of disabled people’s organisations set up to monitor and engage with the UK government on CRPD issues.”
Other members of the UK CRPD Monitoring Coalition of Disabled People’s Organisations include Disability Wales, The Alliance for Inclusive Education, Disabled People Against Cuts, Sisters of Frida, Inclusion Scotland and the Mental Health Resistance Network, several of which are members of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance.
In her two-paragraph letter to the coalition, Newton says she will not be able to meet with them “due to ongoing diary commitments” but “would be pleased to have my officials do so on my behalf”.
It is not the first time that Newton’s commitment to disability rights has been questioned.
Last December, she refused to explain why she had apparently failed to attend or organise any events – or even post a message of support on social media – on the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD).
The coalition’s letter also reminds Newton that she previously stated that she strongly welcomed a meeting to discuss how the government was implementing CRPD.
In February, the coalition wrote to the prime minister, Theresa May, to question the lack of progress since the UN committee produced its “damning” report and to ask for a meeting to discuss their concerns.
In her response, sent on 25 April, Newton said: “I strongly welcome your proposal of a meeting to discuss how Government is implementing the concluding observations of the Committee for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and planning to work with organisations led by disabled people.
“This closely fits with work I have been leading with the Office for Disability Issues within government.”
DWP had not been able to comment by 1.30pm today (Thursday), after being approached yesterday afternoon.
23 August 2018
Leonard Cheshire facing care regulator questions after third Greathouse death
A disability charity is facing questions from the care regulator after a third former resident of a care home died within a month of its sudden closure.
Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported concerns from disabled campaigners, relatives and former staff at Greathouse, near Chippenham, after it emerged that two of its former residents had died soon after being forced to leave the home, which closed on 27 July.
But it has now emerged that a third former resident – who was believed to have been terminally-ill – has also died after being moved to a nearby care home.
Another former service-user, a disabled woman who used the home’s respite service and was said to have been deeply upset at not being able to visit Greathouse, is also believed to have died since the closure, while as many as five or six former residents have had to be admitted for hospital treatment.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has now told DNS that it has asked Leonard Cheshire for information about the deaths.
Debbie Ivanova, CQC’s deputy chief inspector of adult social care, said yesterday (Wednesday): “Any death is a matter of concern – and all providers are obliged to notify us whenever a person has died in their care.
“Exactly how we follow up this information will vary according to the circumstances in each case.
“We are aware of the concerns in this case and we have asked [Leonard Cheshire] to provide us with further information – and we will decide what action we take once we are aware of the full circumstances.”
Last week, Anne Keat, whose son Richard was a resident at Greathouse and has now been moved to another home nearby, said she and other relatives were convinced that the deaths and other serious health problems were connected to the closure.
Although it is impossible to prove that the deaths and health problems were caused by the sudden closure of Greathouse and residents being forced to move to new homes, some research has suggested a link between involuntary relocation from residential homes and a negative impact on residents’ health.
Earlier this month, Leonard Cheshire was also criticised over its decision to sell 17 residential homes to other care providers and was accused of making “a complete mockery” of its supposed commitment to service-user involvement.
Three former Greathouse residents are believed to have moved to Leonard Cheshire homes that are among the 17 listed for sale next year and so are likely to go through a further period of uncertainty and upheaval.
Leonard Cheshire faced allegations of “insensitive and abusive” behaviour in May over the way managers from head office told disabled residents of Greathouse that they were about to close the home.
About 20 residents were given just three months’ notice of the charity’s plans to close Greathouse, with Leonard Cheshire blaming staffing problems, a drop in the demand for places and the cost of repairs.
Leonard Cheshire refused to say yesterday (Wednesday) if it was taking any responsibility for the deaths or if it would be investigating what had happened, claiming it would be “inappropriate” to do so.
In response to the death of the third former resident, a spokeswoman said: “We were sorry to hear this news and our thoughts are with [his] family.
“Any unexpected death is always reported and investigated by the relevant regulatory authorities so it is inappropriate to comment further at this point.
“In line with best practice, detailed support and care plans were in place for the former residents of Greathouse prior to their move.
“This included health checks and the transfer of records around complex conditions to the new providers.”
Wiltshire County Council said today (Thursday) that it would be contacting all the local authorities that had funded residents at Greathouse, after it learned of the deaths.
A council spokesman said: “There were 21 people who were residents/received support at Greathouse (of which we fund eight) so we are also making contact with all of the other funding authorities to speak to them about the situation.
“We already have regular direct contact with the people we fund and are not aware of any issues related to their ongoing care.”
He had said earlier, in a statement: “We are very sorry to hear that some former residents of Greathouse have passed away since the home closed, and our thoughts are with the families affected.
“We currently fund the care and support needs of eight people who were previously receiving care services at Greathouse [four residents and four who received respite and day services] and their needs are now being met by other providers.
“Although the closure notice period is out of our control, we always ask for as much notice as possible when homes have to close but this depends on the individual circumstances.
“As soon as we were made aware of the closure, we put processes in place to work with partners to ensure a smooth transition of residents to a new care provision of their choice.
“Our safeguarding team work to protect vulnerable people’s right to live in safety, free from abuse or neglect.
“We are in regular contact with the residents whose care we fund and we have not been made aware of any safeguarding issues related to them.
“We are happy to speak to anyone who has any concerns about the ongoing care of the former residents at Greathouse.”
A CQC spokeswoman said earlier this week that it was “unable to influence a provider’s decision to close a service” and that its priority was to ensure “consistently safe, effective, responsive and high quality care is given to people who use services and we will always take action when we consider it necessary to do so”.
She said CQC had been contacted “by some relatives and people who used the service raising concerns about the closure and the way and manner it was being handled.
“In response to these concerns we maintained regular contact with the provider, [Leonard Cheshire], and received regular updates from them notifying us of how and when people were moved to alternative accommodation.
“Our understanding is that the provider also worked with the various local authorities involved to ensure that suitable alternative accommodation was found and in addition provided support to people and their relatives, including discussing options and facilitating visits to their new homes prior to moving in.”
23 August 2018
Deaf campaigner takes court action over BSL jury ban
A Deaf campaigner has launched a legal action aimed at stopping the government discriminating against users of British Sign Language by preventing them from serving on juries.
David Buxton, chief executive of the London-based disabled people’s organisation Action on Disability, is seeking a judicial review of the government’s failure to allow him to sit on a jury.
He was called up for jury service at Kingston Crown Court earlier this year, but when he told the Jury Central Summoning Bureau he was Deaf, he was informed that he was not required.
A crown court judge later deferred a decision on whether he would be allowed to serve as a juror.
In his claim for judicial review – which is being funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission – Buxton is arguing that justice secretary David Gauke is discriminating against him and breaching the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty, and the Human Rights Act, by not allowing him to serve on a jury with the assistance of an interpreter.
The Ministry of Justice said this week that allowing a non-juror into the jury room during its deliberations breaches common law.
But Buxton’s call is backed by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which said last September that the UK government should enable BSL-users “to fully and equally participate as jurors in court proceedings”, under article 13 (access to justice) of the UN disability convention.
The committee, in its concluding observations on the government’s implementation of the convention, said it was concerned that “regulations exclude persons with hearing impairments from participation in jury proceedings, and that personal assistants/interpreters are not deemed to constitute procedural accommodation”.
The refusal to allow BSL-users to take part as jurors is a long-standing source of frustration for many Deaf campaigners.
Jeff McWhinney, at the time the chief executive of the British Deaf Association (BDA), was told by a crown court judge in 1999 that he could not let him serve as a juror because the law prevented him bringing an interpreter – a “13th person” – into the jury room.
The Labour government said it was considering a change in the law at the time, but successive governments have failed to take steps to do so in the last 19 years.
BDA said it had persuaded the Ministry of Justice to look at this and other issues affecting d/Deaf people across prisons, courts and juries, but that the government had yet to take any “meaningful action”.
Now Buxton, himself a former BDA chief executive, has launched another legal bid to force a change in the law.
He spoke out this week as the high court rejected his separate judicial review claim that the government had discriminated against him and other BSL-users by imposing an Access to Work cap that affects those with the highest support needs (see separate story).
Buxton said that ruling showed that the Equality Act “does not sufficiently protect Deaf people using BSL despite ministers and MPs repeatedly saying that it does.
“This judicial review judgment shows how hard it is to protect our rights as Deaf people using BSL as our first or preferred language.
“The government supports the economies of cost over our basic human rights, therefore we have to campaign for the Equality Act to be strengthened, especially as there is no legal status for BSL in this current act.”
He said that one reasonable adjustment that would solve the problem of the “13th person in the jury room” would be for the court to provide an interpreter in another room while he watched a video relay screen in the jury room.
The failure to allow BSL-users to serve on juries is further evidence, Buxton believes, that the Equality Act 2010 does not provide sufficient protection to Deaf people who use BSL, “despite ministers and MPs repeatedly saying that it does”.
A BDA spokeswoman said: “The current UK practice of denying Deaf people the right to sit on a jury is an overt form of institutional discrimination and failure to accord Deaf people their rights as full citizens.
“Justice should not only be received but also dispensed by all sections of the community including Deaf people.”
Louise Whitfield, Buxton’s solicitor, from legal firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, said the jury case would “further test the government to show its commitment to the spirit of the Equality Act or to continue simply ignoring the fact that it is possible for Deaf people to serve as jurors in this modern, inclusive and accessible society without any direct or indirect discrimination”.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “It would be inappropriate to comment while legal proceedings are ongoing.”
23 August 2018
Deaf boss forced to appeal for charity support after Access to Work court defeat
A Deaf chief executive is having to appeal to charity to fund the support he needs to do his job, after the high court decided that a cap the government imposed on Access to Work (AtW) payments did not breach the Equality Act.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) set an annual cap of £42,500 on AtW payments in 2015, but later increased it to £57,200 (twice the annual salary) after David Buxton launched a high court challenge, funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Buxton argued that the higher cap on AtW payments – which fund workplace adjustments for disabled people such as support workers and travel costs – still had a disproportionate impact on the job and career prospects of Deaf users of British Sign Language (BSL) and other disabled people with high support needs.
He said this placed them at a disadvantage when trying to get into jobs and develop their careers.
Now Mr Justice Kerr has ruled that the higher cap did not breach the government’s public sector equality duty and was not “indirectly discriminatory”.
He said the cap was not introduced as a cost-cutting measure but “as an intended cost-neutral measure, changing the distribution of available funding but not its overall level”.
And he concluded that the higher cap “strikes a balance” between funding more low-level cost awards and the needs of existing high-cost recipients, who must “forego some of the available funds to provide the money to spend on achieving the government’s aims”.
But Buxton, chief executive of the London-based disabled people’s organisation Action on Disability, said this week that the court’s ruling means he will now have to seek support from charitable trusts or donors to pay for the BSL interpreters he needs to do his job.
Buxton, whose first language is BSL, believes that Deaf people are being “punished” by the government for their high support needs through the “ideologically driven” cap, which was “directly discriminatory towards d/Deaf people”.
The cap means he currently only receives enough support to pay for one BSL interpreter for four days a week.
He said that this forces him to spend large parts of the week re-arranging his schedule to ensure there is an interpreter in the office when he needs one.
He also has to pay for a second interpreter to cover meetings that will last more than an hour, to allow the first interpreter to have the necessary breaks.
Evening meetings are an even greater stretch on his AtW support budget as they are more expensive.
This means he is frequently left with enough interpreter support for just three days a week, or sometimes just two.
And he can never predict when he will receive unexpected phone calls, or if staff will need to see him urgently at short notice.
He said: “This cap has caused me a lot of stress and isolation. Some days I don’t have any funds to pay for interpreters, mainly because I booked co-workers on other days, [and because] evening meetings cost more.
“I had to organise my AtW support nearly every day, planning ahead, making sure that I have enough cover. This is overbearing and unnecessarily creates hours of extra work.”
He added: “DWP did not assess or meet me at all. They simply decided to give me funding at the level of the cap, expecting me to sort myself out by getting less support every day.”
Buxton said he had worked “so hard for many years” to reach his current position, which he achieved because of his skills and experience, not because he was Deaf or a BSL-user.
He said: “The cap has real and lasting effects on my ability to do my job.
“This is not about greed, it is not about having every whim catered to – it is about ensuring that of the many things that I have to think about in my role, that communication and language access are not among them.”
And he questioned whether such a cap would be appropriate for a minister who used BSL as their first language.
He is also concerned that ministers have refused to say how much revenue is returned to the Treasury for every £1 spent on Access to Work, through taxes paid by recipients and their support workers and interpreters and the benefits that ATW-recipients do not need to claim if they are in work.
Previous research has suggested a return of as much as £1.48 for every pound spent on AtW.
A DWP spokeswoman refused to respond to concerns that the cap meant that disabled people – particularly BSL-users – with high support needs would never be able to achieve full equality.
She also refused to say if DWP accepted that the cap was imposing a limit on how far the careers of some Deaf professionals could go, and whether the minister for disabled people would expect a Deaf minister to cope with less than full-time communications support.
She also refused to say if DWP had calculated the financial return to the Treasury for every £1 invested in Access to Work.
But she said in a statement: “We welcome the high court’s judgment.
“We’ve set out a commitment to see one million more disabled people in work by 2027, and Access to Work forms an important part of our plans.
“When making changes to Access to Work we work closely with stakeholders from the deaf community, including the UK Council on Deafness as well as deaf individuals.
“We’ve decided to increase the limit on the amount people can claim under Access to Work by £15,000 to up to £57,200 a year, and last year 25,000 people had their request approved by Access to Work, an increase of eight per cent from 2015-16.
“The award limit was introduced to enable the programme to continue to help as many people as possible, and we’re taking steps to make more people aware of the scheme by working with employers, charities and health professionals.”
But Louise Whitfield, Buxton’s solicitor, from legal firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, said: “Despite the very real gains of the massively increased cap, it is extremely disappointing that the government failed to recognise the significant adverse impact on Deaf people of preventing them from working in roles that need high levels of support.
“We will never see equality for Deaf and disabled people if this remains the government’s position.”
And the Stop Changes To Access To Work campaign praised Buxton for taking the case and said the ruling “highlights the fragility of our rights protections whereby government can decide to implement measures that discriminate and curtail the equalities of Deaf and disabled people so long as they prove they have considered the impacts and cite funding constraints.
“It also fails to give any weight to our concerns about the impact of the glass ceiling that the cap sets for Deaf BSL-users and wider social impacts on inequality.”
The campaign said the judgment showed there was “far more to do in the fight for the rights of Deaf and disabled people to work on an equal basis with others in line with article 27 [on work and employment] of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.
23 August 2018
Minister condemned for ‘woeful’ response to residential special school review
Inclusive education campaigners have condemned the government’s “woeful” response to a review of the experiences of disabled children and young people in residential special schools.
The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said the government had again failed to take action that would “turn the tide against increased segregated education” and improve inclusive education in mainstream schools.
Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, who co-chaired the independent review, said last November that she had found the quality of support in residential special schools “extremely variable”, while there was “far too little focus” on educational outcomes.
Far too often, she said, the disabled children and young people who ended up in residential special schools had been failed by the system.
And she called for a system which enabled disabled children to attend schools in their local communities.
Dame Christine’s review, which was commissioned by the government, concluded that “experiences and outcomes for these children and young people are too often not as good as they should be”.
About 6,000 disabled children and young people are educated in about 330 residential special schools and colleges, in the state, non-maintained and independent sectors, costing about £500 million a year, with each placement costing between £35,000 and £350,000 a year.
In his response to the review, education secretary Damian Hinds said in a letter to Dame Christine this week that he recognised there had been “a steady movement of children with special educational needs out of mainstream schools and into specialist provision, alternative provision and home education”, with increasing rates of school exclusions.
He said it was “right that the presumption in law is for mainstream education” but that he was also “clear that specialist provision can be the right choice for many of those with more complex needs”.
He said he wanted to “equip and incentivise” mainstream schools “to do better” for disabled children and young people, and said the government had begun a review of the national minimum standards for residential special schools.
Hinds also pointed out that the government had put in place a contract with the Whole School SEND Consortium – worth £3.4 million over two years – to “embed SEND [special educational needs and disabilities] within approaches to school improvement in order to equip the workforce to deliver high quality teaching across all types of SEN”.
But ALLFIE said it was “very disappointed by the government’s lack of action to eradicate residential and day special schools and continued failure to turn the tide against increased segregated education, resulting in too little being done to improve inclusive education practice”.
It pointed to the comments of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities last September – in its “concluding observations” on the UK’s progress in implementing the disability convention – in which it said it was concerned about “the persistence of a dual education system that segregates children with disabilities in special schools”.
The committee called for “a coherent and adequately financed strategy… on increasing and improving inclusive education”.
The UN has separately made it clear that inclusive education means that all disabled children and young people are educated in mainstream settings and that the right for disabled students not to be discriminated against “includes the right not to be segregated” into special schools.
ALLFIE said the contract awarded to the Whole School SEND Consortium was a “distraction” from the findings in Dame Christine’s report that £500 million was spent supporting just 6,000 disabled young people in residential special schools every year – an average of about £80,000 per pupil – while mainstream schools were facing “substantial cuts” to their budgets.
It said that the suggestion by Hinds that parents “actively make a choice” of specialist provision was not based on evidence, with Dame Christine finding that “many of the children and young people currently in residential special schools and colleges could be educated in their local communities if better support was available”.
An ALLFIE spokeswoman added: “We know of families who have been offered residential special school placement in lieu of no suitable provision being made available in their local mainstream schools. It’s not a choice.”
23 August 2018
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com
Members raise concerns over Disability Labour’s ‘consistent failure’
Disabled Labour activists have gone public with their concerns about the “consistent failure” of the organisation set up to build links between the party and the disability movement.
They are set to call for major changes to Disability Labour at its agm next month, including the replacement of two key executives.
Disability Labour is an independent society, affiliated to Labour, and is supposed to work with the party to make its services and meetings accessible, while also campaigning to address disabling barriers in wider society and for full civil rights for disabled people.
But many frustrated members in the Disability Equality Act Labour (DEAL) campaign group say it has repeatedly failed in all its objectives.
Among DEAL’s concerns are Disability Labour’s lack of accountability to its members, its failure to manage its membership list, that its ruling executive meets only four times a year, and its failure to carry out any proper programme of work.
DEAL, which was set up to address Disability Labour’s failings, says its executive promises every year to improve but has repeatedly failed to fulfil that pledge, while there has been “virtually no communication” with members this year.
Among a string of motions it hopes will be passed at the agm are expressions of no confidence in the chair, Dave Allan, and the secretary, Louise Reecejones, who it wants removed from their positions.
Since its launch, DEAL has published a campaigning document that called on the party to improve access for disabled members, and a subsequent handbook aimed at helping the party comply with its duties under the Equality Act.
Sophie Talbot, one of DEAL’s founders, said the group had “begged and pleaded” with Disability Labour to take action.
She said: “The last thing anyone wanted was this horrible conflict. But after years of bending over backwards to try and get the Disability Labour executive to communicate with members and be fit for purpose, this seemed like the only thing we could do.”
Now DEAL has published a series of new web pages with a set of demands they hope will “fix the ailing organisation”.
As part of a 12-point plan, it wants to see free membership for all disabled party members; for Disability Labour to be “a strong campaigning voice”; for it to adopt the DEAL handbook; and for Disability Labour to support and endorse disabled members standing for public office and party positions.
Talbot added: “We set up as a group because of the consistent failure of Disability Labour to work on behalf of its members.
“We were sick and tired of the total lack of communication with members, and what looks like a small group of executive members using Disability Labour to further their own political careers.
“At the 2018 AGM we’ll be there to tell them it’s time to hand over to people that will do the job they’ve never lived up to.”
Emily Brothers, a member of the executive, said she also had concerns about the performance of the chair and secretary and was frustrated at Disability Labour’s failings.
But she was also critical of the “groundswell of negativity” coming from online groups like DEAL, despite some positive work, such as the new handbook.
She said: “There is too much introspection on the internal workings and machinations of things like constitutions [of Disability Labour] as opposed to being positive and looking at issues around policy, and frankly how we can put the Tories on the back foot on issues affecting disabled people.
“There are many things which are not working. We do need change, but we need to work incrementally towards that.
“I think it is quite sad that we are putting so much energy into conflict between disabled people inside the Labour party as opposed to utilising that for our common good to challenge the Tories on welfare rights, employment policy, and the implications of Brexit for disabled people.”
Brothers said there was no need for the string of motions being put forward for the Disability Labour agm by DEAL, while she said the no confidence motions could be better dealt with by voting in new officials in the annual elections to the executive.
She said recommendations made by a democracy review – likely to be approved next month by Labour’s national executive committee – would set up a new disabled members’ section that would sit within the party’s national structure.
This would mean a new role for Disability Labour and potentially a discussion as to whether it would continue to exist in the long-term.
Another member of the executive, Kirsten Hearn, said she was “very frustrated” with how Disability Labour had performed and was “embarrassed” that she had not done more herself to try to reform the organisation.
But she also questioned whether motions of no confidence were the way to change Disability Labour.
She said: “I don’t think the agm should take up time with motions criticising anybody’s leadership, [instead it should] elect a new set of people to get on with things.
“I don’t see the point of punishing or humiliating people for their poor leadership. We should just move on.
“I strongly encourage every single member of Disability Labour to try and be at the meeting.
“What we need to do now is to vote in people with a progressive programme of change and action for disabled people.”
She said Disability Labour needed to support disabled people to stand as candidates for political office and for leadership positions in the party and ensure inclusivity in the party.
And she said it needed to push to ensure “that we are an inclusive party and our policy agenda truly reflects the issues and concerns of disabled people in the areas of struggle we have in our lives, including employment, benefits, health, exclusion, hate crime…”
Neither Allan nor Reecejones had responded to a request to comment by noon today (Thursday).
A spokesman for Marsha de Cordova, co-vice-chair of Disability Labour and the party’s shadow minister for disabled people, said she was on leave this week and so was unable to comment, although she made several comments on other issues on Twitter.
23 August 2018
from Disability News Service
DWP facing court over claimant’s universal credit ‘fit for work injustice’
A disabled man who was unfairly found “fit for work”, and then saw his benefits slashed by almost £180 per month after he was forced onto the government’s new universal credit benefit system, is seeking justice in the high court.
It is the latest in a series of legal cases that have been taken on behalf of disabled benefit claimants against DWP, as a result of a series of welfare reforms introduced under successive Conservative and Conservative-led governments.
The man, known as IM for legal reasons, had been claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), but after undergoing a work capability assessment he was told in March last year that he was no longer eligible for ESA.
His jobcentre advised him to claim universal credit instead, which he did, but he also successfully appealed against the decision to find him fit for work.
Although the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) now accepts that he was unfairly found fit for work and that he has limited capability for work-related activity – the equivalent of being in the ESA support group – he has been treated as a new universal credit claimant.
As a new claimant, he is not entitled to the severe disability premium (SDP) he previously received as a top-up to ESA.
If draft regulations become law, he may be entitled to the partial compensation of £80 a month agreed by work and pensions secretary Esther McVey for those who lost entitlement to SDP when they were forced to move onto universal credit.*
IM’s judicial review case has been taken by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), which has described DWP’s policy as “irrational” and discriminatory.
It has secured permission for a judicial review of the failure to provide IM with transitional protection after his move to universal credit, or, alternatively, the refusal to allow him to return to ESA.
CPAG is taking a similar legal action on behalf of TD, a single mother with a disabled child, which will be heard by the high court alongside IM’s case.
TD gave up her job to become a full-time carer but had her income support terminated when her child’s disability living allowance (DLA) was about to end and before it could be renewed.
She was also told by the jobcentre to claim universal credit, which she did.
Despite DWP eventually admitting that there had been a mistake, TD is now receiving almost £140 a month less under universal credit than she did when receiving income support.
The two cases are expected to be heard together in the high court early next year.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) welcomed the judicial review and warned that if it was not successful, many other disabled people would be affected in a similar way.
DPAC said DWP was clearly engaged in “another cost-saving exercise”.
A DPAC spokesperson said: “Financially, the incentive for DWP is to find as many claimants as possible fit for work.
“Even if the decision is overturned, DWP is saving money by transferring claimants to universal credit.
“This is clearly just more evidence that universal credit is beyond being fixed.
“People already living on poverty-level social security payments are simply and randomly being thrown even further into destitution.”
Claire Glasman, from the campaigning organisation WinVisible – which supports disabled women – said: “Families are being devastated by abolition of income support, which is some recognition of caring work.
“We are contacted by stressed out mothers at their wits’ end when their children’s DLA and their carer benefits are threatened by the brutal personal independence payment [which is replacing working-age DLA]and universal credit system.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We are not able to comment on an ongoing legal case.”
23 August 2018 From Disability News Service
As usual Disability News Service exposes shocking information and continues to be a thorn in the side of DWP and others.
Disability charity’s appointment of Unum boss as new chair ‘is truly disgraceful’
A disability charity’s decision to choose as its new chair the head of a company closely linked with the government’s hated “fitness for work” test has been branded “a betrayal” of disabled people and “a truly disgraceful appointment”.
United Response, which provides a range of support services to about 3,000 disabled people across England and Wales, this week announced the appointment of management consultant Malcolm McCaig.
McCaig has been a non-executive director of Unum UK since July 2009 and was appointed to chair the company’s board last year.
But Unum has spent decades attempting to influence UK government policy on welfare reform and is blamed by many disabled researchers and activists for pushing successive governments to make the process of applying for out-of-work disability benefits harsher and more stressful.
Those policies have been closely linked to the deaths of countless benefit claimants and with causing significant harm to the physical and mental health of many others.
Campaigners argue that Unum has spent years trying to undermine the social security system to boost the market for its own income protection insurance (IPI) policies.
In 2011, Unum launched a major UK marketing campaign to promote the need for IPI policies, just as the coalition began its three-year programme to reassess about 1.5 million existing claimants of old-style incapacity benefit through the new work capability assessment (WCA).
United Response this week celebrated the appointment of its new chair, describing him as “a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion” who would be “a major asset to the organisation”.
But Mo Stewart, the disabled researcher who has done most to raise concerns about Unum’s influence on welfare reform*, described McCaig’s appointment as “an insult to the chronically ill and disabled people being coerced and intimidated by the DWP, who used Unum as advisers for welfare reforms that have caused death, despair and destitution for those in greatest need in the UK”.
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) described the appointment as “a betrayal of all the disabled people and their families who have suffered under the work capability assessment”.
A DPAC spokesperson added: “More than that, though, we consider it active collusion in Unum’s interest in replacing the UK social security net with an insurance system from which they will profit and disabled people will be harmed.
“Given Unum’s history in the US of denying disability in order to avoid pay-outs this is a truly disgraceful appointment.”
Rick Burgess, another leading disabled activist, said: “Given Unum’s reputation in being a ‘disability denial factory’ and its role in abusive disability welfare changes, this appointment is completely inappropriate, unless of course United Response plans on replicating Unum’s approach to disabled people.”
It is also not the first time Unum has courted links with the disability sector.
Two years ago, the Mental Health Foundation was heavily criticised for launching a partnership with Unum that aimed to tackle the stigma of mental health in the workplace and encourage employers to safeguard the mental health of their employees.
Unum’s links with the UK government date back to the 1990s, when Peter Lilley, social security secretary in John Major’s Conservative government, hired senior Unum executive John LoCascio to offer advice on how to cut the number of claimants of long-term sickness benefits.
A detailed memo submitted to the Commons work and pensions committee in 2002 by a director of Unum – then known as UnumProvident – called on the Labour government to “ensure both that work always pays more than benefits, and more importantly that it is clearly seen to do so”.
And in 2005, Unum bragged in a document that it had “always been at the leading edge of disability assessment and management”, and that government policy was now “moving in the same direction” as “our views and understanding” and was “to a large extent being driven by our thinking and that of our close associates”.
Three years later, in 2008, the Labour government introduced the WCA.
Stewart said McCaig’s appointment “disregards the history of this American corporate giant, the fact that they were official government advisers from 1992 regarding ‘welfare claims management’ which influenced the introduction of employment and support allowance and the notorious WCA”.
She also pointed out that Unum was accused of operating a “disability denial” agenda by a professor at Yale Law School and was identified by the American Association for Justice as being the second worst insurance company in America.
In 2005, California’s insurance commissioner, John Garamendi, described Unum Provident as “an outlaw company” that had “engaged in a strategy to increase its bottom line at the expense of its customers”.
The company has previously admitted widespread criticism of its past actions in the US, mainly over its refusal to pay out on large numbers of genuine insurance claims by disabled people, a record also mentioned five years ago in a Commons debate on the WCA.
Unum also sponsored Cardiff University’s Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research for four years.
That research, said Stewart, led to the fatally flawed biopsychosocial (BPS) model of assessment on which the WCA is based.
Unum has repeatedly dismissed claims that it pushed the government to introduce the WCA system, and two years ago even claimed that it “never has lobbied on the topic of welfare reform or related matters”.
United Response failed to respond to the concerns about Unum.
But Tim Cooper, the charity’s chief executive, said: “Malcolm is an outstanding individual whose background and vast experience will prove invaluable in leading United Response and helping it achieve its vision.
“We undertook an extensive recruitment process resulting in an incredibly strong shortlist of candidates, and Malcolm’s skill set and demonstrable understanding of the charity led to his appointment.”
*Stewart’s book, Cash Not Care, details Unum’s influence over successive UK governments, and how it led to the introduction of the WCA
16 August 2018
Union backs claims of widespread discrimination by ‘hostile’ university
A “Disability Confident” university is facing claims that it forced a disabled member of staff to scour the campus for accessible rooms in which she could deliver her lectures.
The University of Liverpool also told Dr Kay Inckle that it might be considered “reasonable” for her to go down stairs on her bottom in some circumstances rather than be timetabled into ground floor or fully accessible rooms.
And it told the wheelchair-user that she would have to wait in the wings for the end of the annual procession of academic staff through the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall before she was allowed to join them on stage at the end-of year conferment ceremony in which students receive their degrees.
After she protested about her treatment, she says, she was eventually allowed to join the procession.
The university has even claimed that it cannot afford to pay for an access consultant to ensure plans for a £30 million refurbishment of the building where the school of law and social justice and her office will be located are accessible.
Instead of paying for a professional consultant, the university has asked Inckle, and possibly other disabled staff, to offer advice on access requirements for the refurbished building.
The university will also not commit to putting a fire evacuation lift in the building to ensure that disabled people can escape in an emergency, says Inckle.
And one of the two lifts in the main student union building has been out of action for nearly a year, which means that wheelchair-users have not been able to reach the upper floors.
Despite the claims, the university is one of about 7,000 employers that have signed up to the government’s discredited Disability Confident employment scheme.
It claims to be a Disability Confident Employer – the second of the scheme’s three levels – as an organisation that is “recognised as going the extra mile to make sure disabled people get a fair chance”.
Critics have previously argued that it is easy for employers to sign up to the Disability Confident scheme and then continue to discriminate against disabled people.
Inckle, a sociology lecturer who specialises in work on disability, self-harm and mental distress, told Disability News Service that she has been treated with “absolute contempt” by the university.
And she said it was “sickening and laughable” that the university saw itself as a Disability Confident employer.
Now the local branch of her union, the University and College Union, has passed a motion condemning the university’s treatment of her and other disabled staff and students, and is calling for support from disability rights groups.
Its motion says: “The branch is concerned with how the University is discriminating against disabled staff and students in a variety of direct ways from failing to provide accessible rooms and hold accurate information of the accessibility of rooms, to ensuring new buildings are fully compliant with the Equality Act 2010.
“There are also frequent failures to make reasonable adjustments in an effective and timely manner and a hostile and obstructive response towards those who request such adjustments.”
It adds: “A request for an accessible room is not discretionary; it is a legally binding, non-optional and reasonable adjustment.”
The union branch has concluded that the university is breaching the Equality Act 2010 and that its discriminatory actions are “heavily impacting staff and students”.
Inckle described how she has repeatedly been allocated rooms for her lectures that were accessible for disabled students but inaccessible for her because the lecturer’s area could only be reached via steps.
When she complained, she was told to search the campus herself for accessible rooms that would be suitable for her to lecture in.
She has even been allocated rooms that she would not be able to evacuate from in the event of a fire, and she says it took 10 months for the university to provide an accessible toilet for her to use in her own department.
She said: “I was told by one member of university staff that the university might think it was reasonable for me to go down stairs on my bum in some situations rather than provide me with fully accessible rooms.”
On another occasion, a member of university staff demanded that she demonstrate to him how she could be evacuated down stairs in her wheelchair before he would give her permission to use the fire evacuation lift.
Her pleas to address the shortage of accessible parking spaces near her office have also been dismissed.
She said: “As a disabled woman, I am seen as useless and worthless and as an annoyance.
“I am treated with absolute contempt. They see me as a nuisance who needs to shut up and go away.”
A University of Liverpool spokeswoman said: “The University of Liverpool is committed to fulfilling its obligations under the Equality Act and to supporting students and staff with disabilities to flourish.
“Colleagues at the University and College Union have recently raised a number of points with the university regarding the experiences of disabled staff and students and we are actively looking into these.
“We are eager to work with the trade unions and have agreed to meet with them to discuss this further as soon as possible.”
16 August 2018
DWP repeatedly breaches FoI laws ‘in bid to hide secret jobcentre reports’
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has repeatedly breached freedom of information laws in an apparent attempt to prevent the release of secret reports written by disabled people recruited to work within its jobcentres.
Two years ago, DWP published a work, health and disability green paper, Improving Lives, in which it revealed plans to recruit about 200 new “community partners”.
Ministers said these community partners would have “personal and professional experience of disability” and would support work coaches in jobcentres.
The aim was for them to “provide valuable first-hand insight” into the issues faced by disabled people in “securing and sustaining employment”, with work coaches able to draw on their local knowledge.
The community partners, many of whom were to be seconded from disability organisations, would also help map local provision of peer support and service-user groups.
But Disability News Service (DNS) has since learned that these community partners submit regular reports on their work, often based on their experiences of visiting jobcentres.
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 have subsequently been reported on in secret DWP peer reviews (now renamed internal process reviews).
DNS therefore submitted a freedom of information request to DWP in May, asking to see any of the reports written by community partners working in London Jobcentre Plus districts in 2017 and 2018, in case any of them included concerns raised by Community Partners about such failings.
Such requests are supposed to be answered within 20 working days, but there has so far been no written response from the department’s freedom of information department.
On 5 July, DNS emailed DWP’s freedom of information team to ask why it had failed to respond to the request, and followed that up with another email on 19 July, warning that the failure to respond was a clear breach of the Freedom of Information Act.
DNS has since spoken to a civil servant in DWP’s freedom of information team, who promised to try to find out why no response had been sent.
She told DNS this week that she had repeatedly attempted to secure a response from the jobcentre operations team and had warned them that they had breached their legal duties under the act.
She said she did not know why they had failed to respond to the request.
She told DNS: “I chased it again this morning and I don’t know why it has taken so long. I have reminded them of their duty to reply in time and that is where I am with it.
“You have every right to go to the Information Commissioner’s Office [to lodge a complaint].
“I have tried. I don’t know why they are digging their heels. I am sorry.”
A DWP spokeswoman refused to explain the reason for the repeated breach of the Freedom of Information Act.
But she said in a statement: “Any issues relating to FOI requests can be dealt with by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“If you are unhappy with the handling of an FOI request please contact the Information Commissioner’s Office.
“The latest statistics show that DWP answered 95 per cent of FOI requests within 20 working days, exceeding the information commissioner’s compliance threshold of 90 per cent.
“As you know, DWP spokesperson statements must come from the DWP press office, and we regularly provide you with statements, as we are doing so in this instance.
“Please can you therefore use the above wording in your story instead of quoting from phone calls with DWP employees.”
16 August 2018
Deaths and hospital admissions follow short-notice closure of Leonard Cheshire home
At least two disabled people have died while others have been admitted to hospital following the short-notice closure of a residential home by a disability charity.
Leonard Cheshire faced allegations of “insensitive and abusive” behaviour in May over the way its executives told disabled residents that they were about to close their care home because they could not afford to keep it open.
About 20 residents and other service-users were given less than three months’ notice of the charity’s plans to close Greathouse, near Chippenham, Wiltshire.
Leonard Cheshire blamed staffing problems, a drop in the demand for places and the cost of repairs for its decision to close the home on 27 July.
But the charity confirmed this week that two former residents of Greathouse have died soon after being forced to leave the home.
One had been a resident for 15 years and died soon after moving out, while the other had moved to Greathouse more recently and was said to have had a stroke after having trouble settling at his new home.
A third former service-user, a disabled woman who used the home’s respite service and was said to have been deeply upset at not being able to visit Greathouse, is also believed to have died, and other former residents have had to be admitted for hospital treatment.
Anne Keat, whose son Richard was a resident at Greathouse and has now been moved to another home nearby, said she and other relatives were convinced that the deaths and other health problems were connected to the closure.
In addition to the deaths, she said, as many as five or six former Greathouse residents had been hospitalised, including Richard.
He lost more than 20 kilogrammes – more than a quarter of his bodyweight – after learning of the closure and had to be admitted to hospital for three days.
She said: “He literally disappeared before our eyes. It was a pure grieving process, it was horrible to see.”
She said the Greathouse chef had commented several times on how much less food he was cooking in the weeks leading up to the closure, because residents had lost their appetites.
She said: “Leonard Cheshire have a lot to answer for. I just think they have behaved appallingly.”
Earlier this month, Leonard Cheshire was also criticised over its decision to sell 17 residential homes to other care providers and was accused of making “a complete mockery” of its supposed commitment to service-user involvement.
Disability News Service has heard from three separate sources that three former Greathouse residents have now moved to Leonard Cheshire homes that are among the 17 listed for sale next year and so are likely to go through a further period of uncertainty and upheaval.
One source, who has friends among ex-staff and relatives of former residents, said the deaths were “so distressing”, and added: “This is a scandal, but no-one cares.”
Doug Paulley, who lives in a Leonard Cheshire home in Wetherby and has publicly criticised the way the charity is run, said the deaths were “very sad” but predictable.
He said: “Leonard Cheshire knows that people die if they are forced to move from their care homes, but they did it anyway.
“These actions that devastate disabled people who live in their homes – it is disgusting.
“It is difficult to prove but I have no doubt that people being moved forcibly against their will when they have severe impairments has caused deaths.”
He said the charity had given the residents of Greathouse the minimum possible notice – three months – of its intention to close the home.
Although it is impossible to prove that the deaths and health problems were caused by the sudden closure of Greathouse and residents being forced to move to new homes, some research has suggested a link between involuntary relocation from residential homes and a negative impact on residents’ health.
A Leonard Cheshire spokeswoman said: “We are aware that two former residents of Greathouse have sadly passed away.
“Our heartfelt thoughts are with the families at this difficult time.
“It would be inappropriate to comment further at this point until the facts are established.
“Care was taken in supporting all residents of Greathouse with their individual moves, including health checks and the transfer of records around complex conditions so that continuity of care was properly managed.
“Continuity and quality of support, and the welfare of all residents is our top priority during the coming months as we look to secure a new provider for the services that we have taken the difficult decision to sell.
“Any sale is unlikely to occur before the end of March 2019 and could take longer. We will support residents and their families throughout this process.”
She said the charity was not aware of the death of the woman who used the respite service.
She added: “With regard to the other residents you refer to we will not comment on the health of individual residents beyond our statement.
“If residents have transferred to other providers, any queries about the care and wellbeing of residents who transferred to other providers need to be addressed to them.”
She declined to comment further.
16 August 2018
Concerns over green paper’s ‘chilling’ failure to address accessible housing crisis
The government has been criticised by disabled campaigners and the equality watchdog after its new social housing green paper failed to include a single mention of the accessible housing crisis.
Only three months ago, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned that more than 350,000 disabled people in England had unmet housing needs, with one-third of those in private rented accommodation and one-fifth of those in social housing living in unsuitable properties.
EHRC called in its report for the government to draw up a national strategy to ensure an adequate supply of new homes built to inclusive design standards.
But this week’s social housing green paper, described by communities secretary James Brokenshire as a “new deal” for social housing residents – those who pay rent at below market levels – does not mention accessible housing once.
The word “accessible” only appears in the 78-page document four times, on each occasion relating to the need for accessible information or complaints procedures.
The green paper does refer to supported housing, which it explains has a “key role to play” in supporting minority groups including people with mental ill-health, learning difficulties and other disabled people.
But there are no proposals to improve supported housing, other than referring to a U-turn announced last week, in which ministers said that it would continue to be funded through the social security system rather than being devolved to local authorities as originally planned.
The green paper also mentions an ongoing review of the disabled facilities grant (DFG), which provides funding to make disabled people’s homes more accessible, for example by widening doorways or installing ramps, and which will see spending increase from £220 million in 2015-16 to £505 million in 2019-20.
But there are no new proposals for increasing the supply of accessible housing, or even requests for ideas on how the accessible housing crisis could be addressed.
Ellen Clifford, campaigns and policy manager for Inclusion London, said that reading the green paper and realising its failure to mention the crisis in accessible housing – despite the conclusions reached in the EHRC report – had been a “chilling” experience.
She said: “Despite the fact that disabled people are twice as likely as non-disabled people to live in social housing, that over half of all households in the social housing sector have disabled members and that according to the EHRC report there are around 365,000 disabled people in England with unmet housing needs, with one in five disabled people in social housing living in unsuitable accommodation, the new green paper on social housing fails to mention the crisis in accessible housing at all or offer any solutions to it.”
She added: “The paper refers a number of times to the Grenfell tragedy but fails to mention the numbers of disabled tenants housed there, a number on upper floors who were unable to escape, due to the chronic lack of accessible housing that is a problem across Britain.
“The chilling part is that the only mention of meeting disabled people’s housing needs or of accessibility comes through the government’s commitment to invest in supported housing.
“The recent government announcement on increased funding for supported housing states that a unit within such housing will ‘have its own front door’, as if to detract from what this represents, which is ghetto-isation and re-segregation of disabled people.”
EHRC told Disability News Service that it was concerned and disappointed by the green paper’s failure to address the “chronic shortage” of accessible housing.
An EHRC spokeswoman said in a statement: “Almost half of social housing is occupied by disabled tenants or those with a long-term illness and their needs must be specifically reflected in the green paper.
“The ambition to empower tenants is welcome, but we are disappointed that specific initiatives for disabled people and the need to address the chronic shortage of accessible housing are not mentioned.
“We will be responding to the consultation and discussing the proposals directly with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to raise our concerns.”
The green paper offers five “core principles”: a “safe and decent home”; “swift and effective resolution” of concerns about the safety or standard of a home; “empowering residents” and ensuring landlords are held to account; tackling the stigma of living in social housing; and “building the social homes that we need and ensure that those homes can act as a springboard to home ownership”.
But although prime minister Theresa May says in a foreword that the government is “committed to getting more of the right homes built in the right places, sold or rented at prices local people can afford”, the green paper provides few if any firm proposals.
Instead, it includes a series of questions to be answered through a public consultation – which closes on 6 November – although none of them relate to accessible housing.
Although it was not mentioned in the green paper, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced this week that it was extending funding for its Care and Support Specialised Housing Fund (CSSHF) for another three years.
CSSHF received £315 million in its first five years (£63 million a year) and produced about 3,300 accessible “supported or specialised” properties suitable for disabled and older people.
Funding will now rise to £76 million a year for the next three years, with DHSC expecting “thousands” more homes to be built.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) failed to explain the failure to mention accessible housing in the green paper.
Instead, she pointed to the reference to the DFG review, and added: “We realise many disabled people face challenges in their daily lives, but we’re clear that their homes should not cause them problems.
“Our green paper sets out our plan to tackle stigma and ensure social housing can be a stable base that supports people when they need it.
“Our new planning rulebook also makes clear that councils must take the needs of the elderly and disabled people into account when planning new properties.”
MHCLG also said that as design of homes was at the heart of the green paper, that would include making sure properties were suitably accessible.
And it said that disabled people were among nearly 1,000 residents who took part in 14 engagement events around the country leading up to the green paper.
16 August 2018
User-led alliance set to raise concerns for second time with Mental Health Act Review
User-led groups and service-users are set to raise grave concerns about the work of the team reviewing mental health laws on behalf of the government, including its refusal to take a “full human rights-based approach” to reform.
An alliance of user-led organisations, mental health service-users and survivors, and their allies, are to write for a second time to the Mental Health Act Review (MHAR), which is examining the Mental Health Act 1983, which covers England and Wales.
More than 120 organisations and individuals – led by the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) – wrote to the review in May raising alarm about its reluctance to recommend full rights that comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The letter called on the review to address the concerns raised by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, after it investigated the UK’s implementation of the UN disability convention last year.
The UN committee said in the “concluding observations” to its examination of the UK that the government should “repeal legislation and practices that authorise non-consensual involuntary, compulsory treatment” and the detention of disabled people “on the basis of actual or perceived impairment”.
Two NSUN representatives met the review team last month to discuss their letter, but they said they did not think their concerns were taken seriously, while the response from the review’s chair – Professor Sir Simon Wessely – and his three vice-chairs “fell well short of what we might have hoped”.
Wessely made it clear that he and his vice-chairs would not recommend full implementation of the UN convention.
Now NSUN is set to write to the review for a second time next month, in response to the views expressed by Wessely and his vice-chairs at the meeting.
The follow-up letter is likely to stress again the importance of a human rights-based approach to reform which gives mental health service-users the same rights as everyone else, and express strong dissatisfaction with the review’s dismissal of the concerns.
The letter is again expected to secure significant support from user-led organisations, mental health service-users and survivors, and allies.
Among the other concerns raised by the NSUN alliance in the first letter are that service-users, survivors and user-led organisations have been outnumbered in key parts of the review structure, leading to a “tokenistic” approach.
And they say the review has been “incredibly rushed”, with the review brief being to produce recommendations this autumn, ahead of NHS England’s 10-year funding plan, which is expected later this year.
This has caused “significant barriers to service user and carer involvement” in the review.
And they want to see a greater effort to reach those with lived experience of detention and compulsory treatment, with an adequate focus on those from particularly disadvantaged groups, including those from black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, people from disadvantaged socio-economic groups, people with learning difficulties and people with physical impairments.
They also want the review to place more of a focus on social models of mental distress, and to examine alternatives to clinical services and provision of resources for these alternatives.
They also have major concerns about the quality of the interim review report, which was published in May, because of the reporting and reliability of the data it used, and the lack of clarity on the evidence for its findings.
Dorothy Gould, freelance researcher, trainer and consultant for NSUN, said: “It is utterly wrong that the 21st century has been reached without people with mental health diagnoses/in mental distress having the same human rights as everyone else – and now, to compound this, the review chair and vice chairs are not willing to recommend that we do even now.”
Sarah Yiannoullou, NSUN’s managing director, said the review team had made it “quite clear” that that they were not going to recommend any move towards mental health legislation which was fully compliant with UNCRPD.
Yiannoullou said the review was incredibly important because it was likely to be the basis for the last major reform for the next decade.
She said: “Whatever recommendations there are, that’s it for the next 10 years.”
A Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) spokeswoman declined to answer questions about the key points made by NSUN, as the review was ongoing, but said in a statement: “We’re determined to ensure the Mental Health Act works better for patients and their families, which is why we commissioned a review of the act and will be considering the final recommendations of the review when it reports later this year.”
But DHSC also said that a service users’ and carers’ group was embedded in the governance of the review, and that every working group established by the review had at least one service-user or carer as a full member.
DHSC said that more than 2,000 people and organisations had provided views for the review through a call-for-evidence, a survey and face-to-face meetings.
The department also said that 30 small focus groups had been held with service-users and carers, with participants including those with experience of low, medium, high security and forensic services, autistic people and those with learning difficulties, and those from BAME communities.
A further two workshops with service-users, carers and professionals have just been held, while at least 15 more focus groups will be re-run in early autumn to test the review’s thinking.
For more information about NSUN’s campaign, or to offer support, contact Dorothy Gould (email@example.com), NSUN’s lead on the review, or Sarah Yiannoullou (firstname.lastname@example.org)
16 August 2018
Legal ruling secures new protection for autistic pupils
Thousands of disabled children have won new protection from being unfairly excluded from school after a judge ruled that the government’s equality laws were unlawful.
The upper tribunal ruled last week that a 13-year-old pupil, known as “L” for legal reasons, should not have been excluded from his school because his behaviour was linked to his autism.
Now campaigners are calling on the education secretary to change the law to take account of the appeal victory.
L had originally been excluded from school for one-and-a-half days, when he was 11, because of his aggressive behaviour.
The way that Equality Act regulations have been interpreted has meant that children like L who were defined as having “a tendency to physical abuse” were often not treated as “disabled” and were therefore not protected by the Equality Act.
This lack of protection meant schools did not have to justify how a decision to exclude a disabled child in these circumstances was proportionate or explain how they had made reasonable adjustments to support the pupil so the behaviour could be prevented or reduced.
But Judge Rowley, sitting in the upper tribunal, has now found that this rule comes “nowhere near striking a fair balance between the rights of children such as L on the one side and the interests of the community on the other” and was a breach of the Human Rights Act.
He said that “aggressive behaviour is not a choice for children with autism” and that the education secretary had “failed to justify maintaining in force a provision which excludes from the ambit of the protection of the Equality Act children whose behaviour in school is a manifestation of the very condition which calls for special education provision to be made for them”.
He added: “In that context, to my mind it is repugnant to define as ‘criminal or anti-social’ the effect of the behaviour of children whose condition (through no fault of their own) manifests itself in particular ways so as to justify treating them differently from children whose condition has other manifestations.”
He said he believed that his decision was “in harmony with” both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Statistics show that almost half of all school exclusions involve children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), who are almost seven times more likely to be permanently excluded than other pupils.
L’s parents said in a statement: “We have always believed passionately that our son and other children in his position should have equal rights to be able to go to school and receive the support they need to achieve the best possible outcomes.
“School should be somewhere he can go without fear of discrimination or exclusion for actions which he has no control over.
“Knowing that one of the key rules that prevented that has now been found to be unlawful is of great comfort to us, and we hope, many other families.”
Michelle Daley, interim director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said: “ALLFIE has continuously expressed our deep concerns about the increase in the level of exclusion of disabled children and children with SEND and also the increase in the number of children in segregated provision.
“All credit to L and his parents for pursuing the case and in helping to bring about this ruling to get the state to recognise the human rights of disabled children.
“This is an encouraging move forward, ensuring that children will be protected under the law.
“We now hope that further changes will be made to properly implement article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to end segregated education.”
Polly Sweeney, human rights partner at lawyers Irwin Mitchell, who represented L’s family, said: “We are delighted with this outcome and pleased that the upper tribunal has recognised in strong terms that the profound and severe discriminatory impact that these rules have on vulnerable children such as L when accessing education is unlawful.
“As has been made clear in the judgment, this decision does not mean that schools are prevented from excluding children where it is necessary and proportionate to do so.
“However, it will ensure all disabled children are afforded the same safeguards, protections and rights under the law regardless of whether their disability gives rise to challenging behaviour.”
Barrister Steve Broach, who argued L’s case at the tribunal, said on Twitter that the successful appeal “shows the power of the Human Rights Act”, as rules made under the Equality Act were found to have breached L’s human rights.
Melanie Field, executive director at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which funded the case, said: “We are delighted with this judgment which will require schools to make reasonable adjustments to try to prevent or manage challenging behaviour and justify that any exclusion in these circumstances is proportionate.
“This is a positive step towards ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential through education and increasing the inclusion of disabled children in mainstream education.”
A DfE spokeswoman said: “The government is fully committed to protecting the rights of children with disabilities, as well as making sure schools are safe environments for all pupils.
“We will be carefully considering the judgment and its implications before deciding the next steps.”
The government launched a review of exclusions earlier this year, led by former Tory education minister Edward Timpson, which is examining how schools use exclusions and why some groups are disproportionately excluded.
16 August 2018
Retailers back UK’s first ‘accessible shopping day’
Major retailers have backed the launch of the UK’s first “accessible shopping day”, which will see businesses promise to introduce new measures to benefit their disabled customers.
Purple Tuesday, to be held on 13 November, is being led by Purple, the social enterprise formerly known as Essex Coalition of Disabled People.
It has secured backing from businesses and organisations including Asda, Barclays, Argos, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, The Crown Estate, the British Retail Consortium, and Hammerson, which owns Birmingham’s Bullring shopping centre, and has been endorsed by the government.
As well as endorsing and promoting Purple Tuesday, every organisation that signs up must make at least one long-term commitment aimed at improving the experience for their disabled customers, such as introducing regular “quiet hours” for neurodiverse shoppers.
Purple will provide retailers that sign up with a training kit to help staff feel confident in assisting disabled shoppers.
It believes there are a “vast array” of adjustments that can be made by retailers that will have a “significant impact”, and many – like the training kit – can be introduced quickly.
Any business or organisation that interacts with disabled customers can sign up to Purple Tuesday, which will also promote the need for accessible retail websites.
Mike Adams, chief executive of Purple, said: “Less than 10 per cent of companies have a dedicated strategy for targeting disabled customers.
“Fundamentally, Purple Tuesday isn’t about a single day in the year but encouraging lasting change that creates a virtuous circle between businesses and disabled consumers.”
Earlier this year, a report co-authored by Adams, Leading From The Front, found the estimated value of the “purple pound” – the collective spending power of disabled people in the UK and their families – to be £249 billion a year.
The report said that three-quarters of disabled people had walked away from a business because of poor disability awareness – costing businesses £420 million a week – while inaccessible websites and apps cost £11.75 billion in lost revenue in the UK in 2016.
It also pointed out that fewer than one in 10 businesses have a defined strategy for targeting disabled consumers.
Purple Tuesday has evolved from a campaign launched by Purple last year, Help Me Spend My Money, which encouraged retail and hospitality businesses to provide disability equality training to their in-store staff and take other measures such as providing an accessible website.
Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, said: “Shopping should be a pleasant experience, but for many disabled people it can often be the cause of distress and frustration.
“By failing to cater to their disabled customers, many businesses are missing out on billions of pounds and denying disabled people the opportunity to enjoy something which many people take for granted.
“I look forward to working alongside Purple and members of my Disability Retail Forum on this hugely important agenda, highlighting examples of best practice in the retail sector and encouraging others to make small changes which can make a massive difference to their customers.”
16 August 2018
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com
Call for evidence: Pre-paid cards for social care
Pre-paid cards (or payment cards) are increasingly being used by local councils as a way of making direct payments for social care. Instead of funds being paid into a Disabled person’s people’s bank accounts, funding is ‘loaded’ or paid into a card account. This means that councils can monitor in detail all transactions as they happen, and potentially may suspend an account, if they do not approve of how Disabled people are using the cards.
Across the country, Disabled people have been told by councils that they ‘have to’ use a prepaid card, even if they have been managing their own funding for many years (2). We also know of a case in the South West where someone was threatened to a cut to their social care funding, unless they accepted a pre-paid card.
As payments usually have to be made online, or over the phone, using a card may also be inaccessible for some Disabled people.
This system has been promoted to local authorities by National Prepaid Cards Network (1) as a way of ‘clawing-back’ money and controlling the way Disabled people use direct payments. Advice to councils has included; ‘The prepaid card remains the use of the council which allows a wider range of sanctions to be applied tactically where required’
In 2017 the Independent Living Strategy Group (3) conducted research that showed:
The ILSG also found that some councils are imposing pre-paid cards on Disabled people, contrary to the governments own guidance:
‘Whilst the use of such cards can be a useful step from managed services to direct payments, they should not be provided as the only option to take a direct payment The offer of a ‘traditional’ direct payment paid into a bank account should always be available if this is what the person requests and this is appropriate to meet needs.’ 4
(Or, as a Disabled activist pointed out recently; ‘If you are offered a pre-paid card for direct payments, you have a choice. You don’t have to have it!’)
However, despite this research and recommendations made by the ILSG to councils, there still seems to be widespread concern about pressure on Disabled people to accept a card and misinformation about their use.
If you have been offered a pre-paid card as the only ‘choice’, or been pressured to accept a card by your council, the Independent Living Strategy Group would like to hear from you.
Please e-mail email@example.com
(Article by Bristol and South West Disabled People Against Cuts)
Norwich Art Show Announced
Vince Laws & DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) have teamed up to ensure there is a Norfolk Disability Pride Art Show. The show falls under 3 headings:
1) ‘I Protest!’
Protest Art by Vince Laws & DPAC Artists
including the DEAD PEOPLE DON’T CLAIM banner
and the DWP DEATHS MAKE ME SICK shrouds.
Supported by Disabled People Against Cuts
2) A Very Queer Nazi Faust – Props, Photos, Poetry & More!
Highlighting the plight of disabled people under the current Tory government.
(Following the live art performance at Norwich Arts Centre on Weds 12 Sept at 8pm, tickets £6.66.)
Commissioned and supported by Unlimited, celebrating the work of disabled artists with funding from the Spirit of 2012. Supported by Norwich Arts Centre. Supported by Norfolk County Council.
3) Norfolk Disability Pride Art Show supported by DPAC
At St Margaret’s Church of Art,
St Benedict’s Street, Norwich, NR2 4AQ
Sunday 16 – Saturday 29 September 2018.
Accepting and hanging work Sunday 16 Sept 11am-5pm.
LAUNCH PARTY Sunday 16 Sept 5-10pm, (after the Norfolk Disability Pride event at the Forum earlier the same day, 11am-4pm.)
Performance evening Saturday 22 Sept, details TBC.
A Very Queer Nazi Faust end of show Party open to everyone on Friday 28 Sept from 5-10pm.
Take down Saturday 29 Sept. All work must be collected by 5pm.
Call to Artists
You don’t have to show protest art.
Work needs to be relevant to Norfolk Disability Pride, but you don’t have to be disabled to take part.
Work can be for sale or display only. Donate what you can afford to take part, all money goes to DPAC.
To enter work contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Help Vince hang work on Sunday 16 Sept 11am-5pm.
Help host the Launch Party on Sunday 16 Sept 5-10pm.
Help welcome visitors 17-29 Sept, open daily 10am-5pm. (Early shift 10am-1.30pm. Later shift 1.30-5pm)
Entry to the art show is FREE throughout, however donations to DPAC welcome. I hope to pay them back the venue hire & costs.
What: ‘I Protest!’ Art Show, with A Very Queer Nazi Faust props and photos, and Norfolk Disability Pride Art Show.
Where: St Margaret’s Church of Art, St Benedict’s Street, Norwich, NR2 4AQ.
When: Sunday 16 to Saturday 29 September 2018.
When: Launch Party: on Sunday 16 Sept from 5-10pm, then open daily 10am-5pm.
Why: Part of Norfolk Disability Pride 2018. Fighting for disabled peoples’ human rights.
Who: Vince Laws, DPAC, Art of Norwich, Unlimited, Spirit of 2012, Norwich Arts Centre, Norfolk County Council.
Norfolk Disability Pride contact: email@example.com
Tickets for A Very Queer Nazi Faust: https://norwichartscentre.co.uk/events/vince-laws-queer-nazi-faust/?spektrix_bounce=true
Poster shows 3 images:
Top photo by Ruski: Shows Tory MP for Norwich North, Chloe Smith, speaking on the steps of Norwich City Hall at Norwich LGBT+ Pride, while Vince Laws stands silently beside her holding a sign which reads ’Tories Guilty of grave and systematic abuse of disabled people – United Nations’.
Middle photo by Vince Laws shows part of A Very Queer Nazi Faust sign, and 2 of The Naked Abseilers.
Bottom photo by Vince Laws shows an oil painting of some sunflowers.
TUESDAY 11 SEPTEMBER 6-8pm
House of Commons, Westminster, room tbc All welcome
DO NO HARM
A seminar to gather evidence of the significant harm caused to children by separating them from their mothers and families, and which families are targeted for child removal and forced adoption.
Hosted by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP
Organised by Legal Action for Women
Speakers so far:
Andy Bilson, Emeritus Professor of Social Work, University of Central Lancashire – new research into rising levels of investigation of families by social services and of children taken ‘into care’
Victoria Childs, Psychotherapy and Counsellors Union – the (lifelong) impact of separation from birth families
Emma Lewell-Buck MP, Shadow Minister for Children & Families
Lisa Longstaff, Women Against Rape – separation can be worse than witnessing domestic violence: a New York court ruling
Anne Neale, Legal Action for Women, Suffer the Little Children & their Mothers – updated findings from the past year’s self-help case work
SHODA RACKAL, Breastfeeding Peer Supporter – protecting the bond between mother and child
Jean Robinson, Association for Improvement in the Maternity Services – the threat of having children taken stops mothers accessing services
A mother who kept her child, a mother who got her child back, and a grandmother whose grandchild was forcibly adopted.
Contact:020 7482 2496
DWP figures provide fresh evidence to explain PIP claim rejections
New figures show that Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants are questioning only a tiny proportion of the benefit assessment reports written by discredited government contractors Atos and Capita.
Campaigners have been trying for months to secure evidence that would explain why such a high proportion of personal independence payment (PIP) claims that are taken to appeal are successful.
Figures from social security tribunals show the proportion of claimants who won their PIP appeals rose by seven percentage points in a year, from 64 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2016-17 to 71 per cent in the same period of 2017-18.
The new figures, secured by Disability News Service (DNS) through a freedom of information request, may help to explain why so many appeals are successful.
Some researchers have suggested that DWP decision-makers are accepting too many PIP assessment reports prepared by Atos and Capita without subjecting them to proper scrutiny, despite increasing evidence of incompetence and dishonesty by the Atos and Capita healthcare professionals who write them.
DNS has previously spoken to a DWP civil servant working on the PIP “frontline”, who has said that DWP case managers have strict targets for the number of PIP claims they need to process every day and are quizzed by their superiors if they miss their weekly targets.
He has said they are “instructed to act on the assessor’s report, given that they are the medical experts”.
The new figures, provided by DWP following the DNS freedom of information request, appear to confirm concerns that DWP decision-makers are letting many substandard and misleading reports slip through the net.
DNS had asked DWP how many of its decisions on PIP eligibility were made without any attempt to seek further advice or clarification from Atos and Capita, discuss or resolve problems with them, or even return the report to be completely rewritten.
DWP initially said it would be too expensive to produce such figures, but DNS then asked it to test a random sample of 100 assessment reports from Capita and 100 from Atos.
This week, DWP produced those figures, which show that of a random sample of 100 Capita reports, 94 PIP decisions were made without any further contact at all with the company.
And of 100 Atos reports, 97 decisions were made without any further contact with the company once DWP had received the assessment report.
Campaigner John Slater, whose freedom of information work has previously produced crucial data about the DWP’s disability benefit assessment contracts, said the latest figures raised serious concerns about the actions of DWP decision-makers.
Figures he secured from DWP earlier this year showed that an audit of more than 4,000 Capita assessment reports – between April and December 2016 – found about 7.5 per cent were so poor as to be deemed “unacceptable”.
In all, 33 per cent of the audited Capita reports were found to be of an unacceptable standard, to need changes, or demonstrated that the assessor had failed to carry out their role properly.
But this week’s DWP response suggests that its decision-makers are making further checks on just six per cent of Capita assessment reports.
Slater said: “The DWP figures do not reflect the audit management information data it disclosed for 2016.
“Even when you take into account the age of the 2016 data, I would have thought that the number for Capita PIP reports might have been closer to 80 out of the 100 reports sampled.
“This suggests that decision-makers are not looking at the reports critically and are assuming they are accurate.
“I can’t offer anything specific on the Atos data as the DWP still hasn’t disclosed the audit data and the information commissioner is still pursuing the case.
“However, 97 out of 100 still seems unrealistically high.”
Disabled People Against Cuts researcher Anita Bellows, who has also carried out crucial work examining the assessment contracts, also raised serious concerns about DWP decision-makers apparently rubber-stamping more than 95 per cent of all Atos and Capita assessment reports.
She said: “Considering the number of successful appeals against a PIP decision, it is obvious the DWP has not addressed the issue of assessors’ reports and dishonesty.”
She said the figures on successful appeals showed that “very simple errors or untruths” are not picked up by DWP’s decision-makers when making the initial decisions, and then again at the “mandatory reconsideration” internal review stage.
Bellows said: “The figure of 71 per cent of successful PIP appeals is just incredible.
“It means that the DWP made a wrong decision in 71 per cent of cases, not only once but twice.
“There is no better illustration that the system is not working for claimants.”
A DWP spokeswoman refused to answer questions about the new figures, including whether they suggested that one of the reasons for the high rate of successful PIP appeals was that the department’s decision-makers do not have enough time to check assessment reports with Atos and Capita and are not encouraged to do so.
But she said in a statement: “We’re committed to ensuring that people get accurate high-quality assessments and the right decision, first time round.
“A relatively small number of all PIP decisions are overturned at appeal – four per cent.
“Our assessment providers have developed an audit programme with us which we also monitor.
“In addition, the department itself audits a robust random sample of all cases, applying a rigorous set of quality measures to assure that the standards expected by the department are being delivered across the full network.
“Where healthcare professionals fall below the required high standards and do not improve, processes are in place to revoke their approval to carry out assessments.”
The new figures follow years of mounting anger about the way PIP has been designed and run, since it was launched five years ago as a replacement for working-age disability living allowance.
They also follow a lengthy DNS investigation which found claims of widespread dishonesty by PIP assessors – from both Atos and Capita – with hundreds of claimants saying that their PIP assessment reports contained clear lies.
9 August 2018
DWP refuses to pay £125 to discover number of disabled people in full-time jobs
Ministers are refusing to commission work that would cost just £125 and would show how many disabled people are in full-time paid employment, and how that number has changed under successive Tory-led governments.
Ministers, including the current work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, have repeatedly boasted of how their policies have led to an increase of hundreds of thousands of disabled people in work, including a rise of nearly 600,000 between April 2013 and June 2017.
But those claims are based on figures provided by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which includes in its measure of “employment” people who are in part-time work, are self-employed, and those in government-supported training and employment programmes.
This means there are no published government figures that show how many disabled people are in full-time paid employment, and how that number has risen or fallen under successive governments since 2010.
To try to find those statistics, Disability News Service (DNS) submitted a freedom of information request to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), asking for figures for each of the last 10 years for how many disabled people were in full-time, paid jobs.
DWP replied that “this information is not held by the department” and suggested that DNS approach ONS instead.
ONS also said that it did not have that information but explained that it would probably take its experts less than half a day to produce them from existing sets of data, and that it would charge £125 (plus VAT) to do so.
When passed this response and asked why Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, had so far shown no interest in producing these figures – and whether she would now commission the necessary work from ONS – a DWP spokeswoman declined to answer.
Instead, she sent a lengthy statement which explained the role of ONS and praised its independence.
In the statement, she said the ONS definition of employment was “in line with internationally agreed principles of what constitutes employment, and which allow comparisons of the UK with other countries”.
She added: “This definition of employment includes not just people employed in full-time employee jobs; but reflects other forms of work that exist in our economy, including part-time employment; self-employment; and people on government training schemes and employment programmes.”
Asked again if Newton could explain why she appeared to have no interest in asking for these figures to be produced, when they would show how many disabled people were in full-time paid employment, the DWP spokeswoman refused to add to her statement, and said: “That’s our response to your query.”
9 August 2018
Legal action threat over wheelchair service’s ‘bullying, delays and poor service’
Wheelchair-users in Kent are threatening to take legal action over growing concerns about delays, poor service and even bullying and harassment by the company running the NHS wheelchair services contract in the county.
Four disability groups – Kent’s Physical Disability Forum (PDF), the Kent charity Freedom for Wheels, Kent’s Wheelchair Users Group (WUG) and the Centre for Independent Living Kent (CILK) – have written an open letter to the area’s eight clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) raising “grave concerns” about the performance of Millbrook Healthcare.
The letter, which is also supported by some members of the Medway Physical Disability Partnership Board, has been copied to every one of Kent’s MPs.
The groups say in their letter that they “no longer have any confidence in Millbrook to provide the wheelchair service across Kent” and do not believe that Thanet CCG – which negotiated the wheelchair services contract on behalf of the eight CCGs in Kent and Medway – is “a fit and proper organisation to oversee that contract”.
Thanet CCG was one of four east Kent CCGs placed into special measures this week by NHS England, partly because of “issues with the quality of services they commission”.
Millbrook has this week strongly denied allegations of bullying, harassment and unsafe behaviour by its staff, while Thanet CCG has denied seeing any evidence of harassment and bullying.
Professor Mike Oliver, the disabled academic who first defined the “social model of disability” and a long-standing WUG member, is playing a key role in the campaign to expose the failings in the wheelchair services contract.
He has been a user of wheelchair services in the county for more than 50 years, and he believes the service – which currently provides manual and powered wheelchairs to almost 20,000 adults and children – is worse now than it has ever been throughout that time.
The four groups have been unable to secure detailed figures on delays, waiting-lists and other aspects of Millbrook’s performance, but Oliver said the anecdotal reports they had received from disabled people were deeply concerning.
In one case, a man who repeatedly asked for proper foot-plates to be fitted to his wheelchair now faces the possibility of having his foot amputated because of a pressure sore he believes was caused by the unsuitable wheelchair.
A disabled child was reportedly told by a member of Millbrook staff that if he did not sit still he would have his wheelchair taken away, while another wheelchair-user had their arms and legs forced into position in a wheelchair.
Another case saw a woman take delivery of a wheelchair from Millbrook, only to find it was filthy, with the cushion smelling of urine.
Oliver gave evidence to Kent County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee last month about the concerns and told them: “The service now is the worst it has ever been.”
And he said the four groups were unanimous in believing the contract had to be removed from Millbrook.
He said there had been “harassment, bullying” and examples of “possible assaults, of threatening behaviour of children, and we know there is at least one serious incident being investigated by the police”.
He added: “The situation in our view has reached a critical stage.”
In a report to the committee, Thanet CCG admitted that the number of children on the waiting-list had risen from 210 to 443, and the number of adults from 1,046 to 1,971, since Millbrook took on the contract.
Of these, 251 children and 999 adults had been waiting for more than the 18-week target, while 62 children and 272 adults had been on the waiting-list inherited from the previous provider and so had been waiting longer than a year.
The report said the CCGs were treating the situation “very seriously” and that the delays in resolving the issues were “very regrettable”.
Thanet CCG also said it was in discussions about providing further funding for Millbrook because the caseload it inherited when it took over “included both a backlog of long waiters and a much higher complexity case-mix” than had been expected, and that Millbrook was drawing up an improvement plan.
But Oliver told the meeting that he and his fellow campaigners did not accept the CCG report and had told Thanet CCG that providing Millbrook with more funding would be a mistake.
Despite his comments, Thanet CCG is currently seeking approval from the other CCGs to provide extra funding to Millbrook to clear the backlog.
The Millbrook contract is already worth £5.1 million a year, which includes the costs of staff, wheelchairs and spare parts.
The committee was also shown a report listing concerns raised by PDF, which included a string of complaints about delays, poor service and Millbrook incompetence.
Oliver and fellow campaigners have been raising concerns about the service since a meeting last November, more than six months after Millbrook took on the contract in April 2017.
But Oliver told Disability News Service (DNS) that Millbrook “pooh-poohed our concerns”, blamed backlogs inherited from the previous contractor and promised “immediate improvements” by the beginning of 2018, which it failed to deliver.
He himself has been waiting for a replacement arm-rest for his wheelchair since January.
The four groups are now considering seeking legal advice for a possible court action against Thanet CCG.
Oliver said he believed that the state of wheelchair services was worsening across the country and was in a “very bleak” state.
Millbrook Healthcare told DNS this week that it had “not been presented with any evidence that suggest service users and their families are being harassed, bullied or threatened by our staff” and that there had been “no incidents or safeguarding concerns involving our staff reported to us, or our partners in the CCGs”.
A Millbrook spokeswoman said: “In a response to Professor Oliver, we and the CCGs have requested that if there is specific evidence to support these claims, then these need to be provided so that we can conduct a full investigation and take the necessary actions.”
She said Millbrook staff had drawn up their own “impact statement”, in which they claimed that the “blanket slur has caused anxiety and offence” and that they had themselves “suffered verbal abuse whilst carrying out their roles”, which often left them “feeling distressed and vulnerable”.
She said: “Our teams pride themselves on their continuing professionalism, consideration and standard of care to service users.”
She said that all loaned wheelchairs were “subject to our full infection control and decontamination process” and were thoroughly refurbished – according to the manufacturers’ guidelines – and inspected before being handed over to service-users.
She said that poor quality data handed over by the previous provider of wheelchair services meant the level of backlogs was unclear at the start of the contract, and it had “taken time to build an accurate picture of the service”.
The Millbrook spokeswoman said: “We appreciate that some service users have had to wait longer than anticipated for their wheelchairs, for which we again apologise, but now we know the extent of the issue, we can assure service users that the CCGs and ourselves are putting all our efforts into improving the situation and moving service users through the service as quickly as possible.”
She claimed that Millbrook was meeting the 18-week target for all children referred to the service to receive their wheelchairs, even though current average waiting-times for children referred to the service were still 17.1 weeks for urgent referrals for a powerchair, and 15.7 weeks for a manual wheelchair.
For adults, the average waiting-times for urgent referrals were 17.3 weeks for powerchairs and 11.7 weeks for manual wheelchairs.
Millbrook had not clarified by noon today (Thursday) how it could be meeting those targets if average waiting-times were so close to 18 weeks, or confirmed that it accepted the waiting-list figures provided to the council by Thanet CCG.
A spokeswoman for Thanet CCG said the CCGs had written to Professor Oliver, urging the forum to share evidence for its claims “so we can investigate them urgently and thoroughly”.
She said: “Checks that we have carried out to date have not uncovered evidence of harassment, bullying or threats by Millbrook Healthcare staff.
“There have not been any serious incidents or safeguarding alerts raised against Millbrook Healthcare.”
But she added: “We are very sorry that the service people have been receiving has fallen short of what we would hope to provide.
“The recent quality visit conducted by NHS Thanet CCG found that Millbrook Healthcare had a process in place to triage and prioritise patients with the highest need on the waiting list, minimising the risk of patients coming to harm.
“Whilst this provides the CCG with assurance that patient safety is being managed, it is clear that pressure on the service due to a growing caseload is severely affecting patient experience and we repeat our apology for this.”
She said Thanet CCG did not accept that it was not an appropriate organisation to lead on the contract.
She said the CCG had concluded that terminating the contract would “lead to an increased risk around retention of the existing provider’s skilled and competent staff”, with Millbrook already losing nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of its employees between June 2017 and June 2018.
She said this was partly “due to pressures on the service associated with the inherited backlog and patient complaints” and that “clinical staff with specialist expertise in wheelchair assessment are not easy to replace”.
She said Thanet CCG had therefore concluded it was “in the best interest of patients to work with the current provider to resolve contract challenges rather than to re-procure which may increase risk to patients”.
She said that providing Millbrook with extra funding to address the “issues associated with the inherited caseload” would enable the company to “deliver an ongoing and sustainable service for patients”.
But Cllr Sue Chandler, chair of the county council’s health overview and scrutiny committee, said in a statement: “The committee expressed grave concerns about the wheelchair services contract and its management by NHS Thanet CCG and I have written to all Kent CCGs to express these concerns.
“The committee has also requested a written response from Thanet CCG, within two weeks, as to whether it is considering terminating Millbrook Healthcare’s contract and the reasons for that choice; and to provide an action plan detailing how the issues will be resolved in the interim.
“The committee will be considering this issue in September, either at an additional or existing meeting of the committee.”
9 August 2018
Train company faces calls to rip up scooter policy after latest ‘shameful’ episode
A rail company is facing calls to change its “reprehensible and unsupportable” attitude to disabled passengers, after one of its guards threatened to throw a woman off a train because she was using a mobility scooter.
Sara Harvey was on the way to a wedding with her husband Liam and had boarded a Northern Rail service to Bolton in her scooter – with the assistance of station staff – when a guard told her she would have to leave the train because the company did not allow any scooters on its services.
The company’s policy is that it does not allow mobility scooters on its trains – in contrast with many other companies, which do allow some scooters – unless they are “folded down before you board, and carried on like luggage”.
Harvey, who is autistic and has a physical impairment, and campaigns as Agony Autie, filmed the altercation with the guard and live-streamed it on Facebook.
She told the guard that she had booked assistance, and had already travelled by train from Chester to Manchester Oxford Road, and had been clear when buying her ticket that she uses a scooter.
She has previously travelled problem-free with her scooter with Arriva Trains Wales and Virgin.
She was eventually allowed to continue with her journey, after support from fellow passengers, some of whom threatened to leave the train with her if she was thrown off.
Harvey told Disability News Service today (Thursday) that the Northern executives responsible for drawing up the company’s scooter policy had “done nothing but cause harm and pain” and that it “emboldens their staff to be hostile”.
She said: “I was told by the guard to ‘get off, get off, get off, you’ve broken the rules. This train goes nowhere with you on it.’ I was treated like a criminal.”
She is now set to meet Northern to discuss what happened but says she has not been told yet how to make a formal complaint and fears that she is “being manipulated” by the company.
She said Northern was only paying attention to the issue now because of the media coverage of the incident.
She said: “It happens all the time on their trains. The difference is that this went viral and hit the mainstream media.
“They put people in distress every day. With this, the difference is the public could see my distress. If my distress wasn’t filmed, they wouldn’t care.
“I told them: you have treated me like the scum of the earth because I am differently abled to you.
“I want to make sure it never happens again. These people don’t care about the customers.”
Harvey said Northern needed to “inject a good deal of common sense” into their policies and practices as well as “empathy and compassion training”.
She said: “At the moment they see us as slow, we take up too much of their time.
“They see it as we make their jobs difficult, but these are our lives and every time they see us as slow and every time they think we make their jobs difficult, they need to be taught that those feelings are ableist.
“People need to be self-aware that you can’t hate on someone who is differently abled from you because they are slower or you see them as a burden.
“I want staff attitudes completely changing and all the way to the top. If platform staff are getting this training, the CEO is getting this training because the CEO and the policy-makers don’t have a clue either.”
Harvey said she had a “full-blown meltdown” the day after the incident, once she had returned home.
She said: “I beat myself in the head about 20 times. It was all because of Northern Rail. They have made me ill.”
The incident, which caused widespread anger and frustration among disabled campaigners, came only weeks after comedian Tanyalee Davis was reduced to tears after being publicly “shamed” by a train guard with another company who forced her to move her mobility scooter to make way for a mother with a baby buggy.
Accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley has been calling on the regulator, the Office of Road and Rail (ORR), to act on Northern’s blanket ban on mobility scooters for more than seven months.
Northern launched a pilot scheme last September, allowing some scooters to use services on a limited part of its network.
Paulley said ORR had raised the issue of the Northern ban on scooters in a June 2017 letter approving the company’s Disabled People’s Protection Policy (DPPP).
The letter noted the pilot scheme but warned that ORR remained “concerned that your policy for travel on the rest of your network remains more restrictive than that of other operators”.
Paulley – a member of the Northern/TransPennine/Hull Trains combined inclusivity forum of disabled lobbyists, although not speaking on their behalf – said there had been no sign of Northern extending this pilot scheme.
He said: “I think Northern’s attitude is reprehensible and unsupportable.”
He said the company used the same trains as other companies which had “less restrictive scooter policies” and added: “They are out of step with the industry and the regulator.
“It’s shameful and yet another example of how Northern are failing passengers – and in respect of this policy, disabled people in particular.”
Northern had failed to answer questions about its scooter policy by noon today but issued the following statement: “We are truly sorry to the customer for her unacceptable experience travelling with Northern and the distress it caused.
“We are currently investigating the incident and have spoken directly with the customer and organising to meet in person to discuss her experience and see how we can learn and improve and help staff to be more autistic and disabled aware.”
An ORR spokesman said it was encouraging Northern to extend its pilot scheme across its network.
He said: “ORR is committed to improving accessibility of the rail network and to promoting the rights of passengers requiring assistance and the services available to them, and we were sorry to hear about the experience of Ms Harvey on her train journey last week.”
He said that some train companies face “challenges” with carrying scooters, such as the size of carriages and the width of platforms, and “foremost consideration must be the safety of both the passenger and staff assisting them”.
But he added: “We have been in regular contact with Northern about its scooter pilot and scooter card scheme since we approved its DPPP last year.
“Although the geographical area of the pilot is limited, we understand that it has enabled some passengers to now travel on their network who previously were unable to do so.
“Northern is continuing to work to enable passengers with mobility scooters to travel as much as possible on their network, within the constraints mentioned above.
“We are encouraging Northern to continue to expand this approach as far as it is safely and operationally possible.”
He said ORR was also reviewing its guidance on writing DPPPs and would consult on proposals to update it later this year, including whether there should be any changes to requirements on carrying mobility scooters and other mobility aids.
He added: “We are also focused on improving staff training, including staff awareness and understanding of differing disabilities as customer service and staff attitude can play a significant part in how comfortable and confident passengers with disabilities feel when making their train journey.”
The Department for Transport (DfT) declined to say what action it was taking to address the uncertainty and distress caused to scooter-users by the range of policies operated by different rail companies.
But a DfT spokeswoman said in a statement: “It is vital that all passengers, including disabled passengers, can feel confident when using public transport.
“This is why the department has published an Inclusive Transport Strategy that will make the entire network more accessible by 2030.
“It is right that the operator has apologised for the way this passenger was treated.
“We expect all train companies to do everything possible to provide the same access and make travel easy for disabled people.”
9 August 2018
UN’s ‘human catastrophe’ rights expert to deliver high-profile UK lecture
The UN expert who told the government that its cuts to disabled people’s support had caused a “human catastrophe” is to visit the UK this autumn to deliver a high-profile lecture on disability rights.
Theresia Degener, the professor of law and disability studies who chairs the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, will deliver the first Caroline Gooding Memorial Lecture at the University of Leeds in October.
Last August, Degener told the UK government’s delegation – during a public examination of its progress on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – that its cuts to social security and other support for disabled people had caused “a human catastrophe” which was “totally neglecting the vulnerable situation people with disabilities find themselves in”.
She later gave an interview with the BBC – which was not broadcast – in which she warned that the portrayal of disabled people by the UK government and media as “parasites” who live on benefits could put them at risk of violence, and even “killings and euthanasia”.
The annual lecture was set up as a memorial to the equality consultant and author Caroline Gooding, who played a leading role in securing improvements to disability rights legislation as a member of the Disability Rights Taskforce.
Gooding was later director of legislative change at the Disability Rights Commission throughout its eight years. She died in July 2014.
The lecture will be hosted by the university’s renowned Centre for Disability Studies (CDS) and its Centre for Law and Social Justice, and will take place on 3 October.
Professor Anna Lawson, director of CDS and co-ordinator of the university’s Disability Law Hub, said she and fellow organisers were “delighted” that Degener was able to accept the invitation to deliver the lecture.
She said: “She is a disabled woman who, like Caroline, has made it her life’s work to push for disability equality and inclusion using the law.
“As chair of the CRPD committee, she occupies what is one of the most influential positions in disability rights globally.
“The fact that her committee has recently reviewed and made recommendations to the UK on its implementation of the CRPD makes the timing particularly good.
“Theresia also knew and admired Caroline and her work.”
She said the lecture would not be focused specifically on the UK but would be “relevant to all countries that have ratified the CRPD, including the UK”.
Lawson said there would be questions and discussion after the lecture, while there are hopes that the event will be live-streamed.
Degener will lecture on “inclusive equality”, a concept introduced by the UN committee through a “general comment” in March and which it hopes can be used to help implement CRPD.
Inclusive equality, the general comment says, argues for redistribution to address socioeconomic disadvantage, and attempts to combat “stigma, stereotyping, prejudice and violence” and recognize the “dignity of human beings and their intersectionality”.
It also recognises the importance of including different social groups in society, but also the need to “make space for difference as a matter of human dignity”.
In the general comment on article five of the convention – on equality and non-discrimination – the committee warns that countries are still approaching disability through charity and medical models, which fail to fully acknowledge disabled people’s rights.
It also warns that the laws and policies of many countries “perpetuate the exclusion and isolation of and discrimination and violence” against disabled people, and that they are often “imperfect and incomplete or ineffective” or “reflect an inadequate understanding of the human rights model of disability”.
In the BBC interview, Degener explained that, compared to other countries with “less economic power” and less advanced equality and discrimination legislation, the UK’s austerity policy was “less human rights oriented”, so that “UK appears to be a strong country when it comes to equal rights but a very, very weak country with relation to economic, social and culture rights”.
She also said the UK’s record on disability rights was “going backwards in a pace and to an amount that it worries us a lot” and that the evidence in front of the committee was “overwhelming”.
The general comment also says that disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) must “play a central role in the development of legal and policy reforms”, including the response to the prejudice faced by disabled people seen as being “a burden on society”.
The committee’s concluding observations, which followed its public examination of the UK’s progress in implementing the convention last August, called on the government to do more to include DPOs in planning and implementing polices affecting disabled people.
Degener was not available this week to comment on her plans for the lecture.
9 August 2018
MPs win praise for online abuse proposals
MPs have won praise after calling on the government to ensure disabled people finally secure equality in the protection they are offered by hate crime laws.
Members of the Commons petitions committee said in a new report that it was not right that it was a crime to incite hatred on the grounds of religion or race, but not disability.
The petitions committee was publishing draft recommendations following an inquiry into the online abuse of disabled people, and said it hoped its work would be “a wakeup call” to the government.
It has now launched a consultation on its recommendations before it publishes its final report – the first time a Commons committee has taken such a step – so that disabled people and their allies can respond to its draft proposals.
Among those recommendations is for the government to introduce a new law that would make it a crime to incite hatred against disabled people, a long-standing demand of disability hate crime campaigners.
Anne Novis, a leading disability hate crime campaigner and chair of Inclusion London, said: “I am thrilled to see the recommendation from this inquiry, which include most of the recommendations we submitted in writing and I gave verbally at the inquiry meeting, and other Deaf and disabled people gave via a testimonies session which Inclusion London helped to organise.”
She said the government had repeatedly failed to listen or respond to “repeated evidence and requests for equity in law on hate crime”.
Novis welcomed the recommendation that disability should be included within hate crime incitement laws, and that there would be “a full and inclusive consultation” on the committee’s draft proposals.
She added: “I hope we will see an appropriate and timely response from this government that does not ignore us, or defer responding, as it has done re disability hate crime for many years.”
In its report, the committee attacked the government’s “shocking” failure to consult disabled people in drawing up its online safety strategy, and warned social media companies that they had been “neglecting the needs of their disabled users for far too long”.
Helen Jones, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said: “It is deeply disappointing that social companies don’t engage fully with their disabled users.
“With their vast financial resources, there’s no excuse for their failure to make their platforms as safe for disabled people as they are for other users.”
She said the inquiry showed that social media was “rife with vile, degrading and dehumanising comments” about disabled people.
The committee called for mandatory teaching in schools on disability hate crime, and for the government to develop an action plan to address the exploitation of people with learning difficulties, both online and offline.
The committee said: “In our inquiry, we have come across some examples of good practice in attempting to meet the needs of disabled people and their families.
“More often, though, we found that disabled people were not being consulted or even considered.
“This was particularly apparent in the very disappointing evidence we received from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and heard from social media companies.
“We do not intend to make the mistake of ignoring disabled people here.”
The inquiry was launched in response to a petition set up by former model Katie Price, which was signed by more than 220,000 people and followed years of disablist and racist abuse targeted at her teenage son, Harvey.
The committee rejected Price’s call for a register of offenders, similar to the sex offenders register, but said the government should look at other ways of making it easier for employers to find out if someone has been convicted of online abuse.
Jones said: “We’ve listened to disabled people to come up with our recommendations to tackle online abuse of disabled people and we will spend the summer listening to them again.
“By launching this consultation, we want to make it clear that the voices of disabled people must be heard.”
She added: “It should be normal practice for select committees to consult on their recommendations, so I’m pleased that the petitions committee is taking this step.”
9 August 2018
MPs launch inquiry into care discrimination faced by LGBT service-users
Disabled activists have given a guarded welcome to the launch of a new inquiry by MPs into the discrimination faced in accessing health and social care services by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.
The Commons women and equalities committee, which has launched the inquiry, said that the results of a government survey, published last month, showed the discrimination faced by many LGBT people in accessing healthcare.
It said the survey showed that almost a quarter (23 per cent) of respondents who had been in a care home said that being open about their LGBT status had had a negative effect on their care.
The committee said its inquiry would “consider whether provision is adequate, whether discrimination is still occurring, and what more needs to be done to improve access to health and social care”.
The LGBTQI+ disabled people’s organisation Regard welcomed the decision to launch the inquiry but raised concerns that its focus appeared to be on access to healthcare rather than social care.
Dr Ju Gosling, co-chair of Regard, said the committee also appeared to be confused about the distinction between healthcare and social care.
She said: “While the evidence is clear that LGBTQI+ people face discrimination in health care, it also shows it is more extreme in social care.
“LGBTQI+ people are also much more dependent on social care than other disabled and older people, due to the reduced availability of support from family and friends.”
Gosling also raised concerns that the committee appeared to have excluded non-binary and intersex people from its new inquiry, “when we know they face specific barriers in accessing health care”.
She said Regard would submit evidence to the committee’s inquiry.
Last October, ground-breaking research co-produced by Regard found that more than a third of LGBTQI+ disabled people have experienced discrimination or received poor treatment from their personal assistants because of their sexual or gender identity.
Almost a third said they felt they had been discriminated against by their local authority on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
And more than 90 per cent said their needs as an LGBTQI+ disabled person were either not considered or were only given some consideration, when they were assessed or reviewed by their council.
Among the questions the committee is asking are: in which areas of healthcare do LGBT people experience worse outcomes than the general population? How effectively do health and social care providers take the needs of LGBT people into account? And what does the evidence show about levels of discrimination against LGBT people in accessing health and social care?
Maria Miller, the committee’s chair, said in a statement to launch the inquiry: “Evidence suggests that the healthcare needs of LGBT people are not currently being met effectively, some report that they still face discrimination in health and social care, and there are inequalities in outcomes between LGBT groups and the wider population.
“We welcome the government’s recently announced action plan and its commitment to ensuring that LGBT people’s needs are at the heart of the NHS.
“This is therefore a crucial time for us to look at how services can best be provided and improved for LGBT patients.
“We want to hear from organisations, individuals, researchers and service providers about what can be done to make health and social services more effective for LGBT people.”
The deadline for written evidence to the inquiry is 5 October 2018.
9 August 2018
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com
Have your say on the future of adult social care – respond to the Local Government Association’s (LGA’s) survey.
The consultation, which is the largest ever launched by the LGA, will last for eight weeks and will shape the LGA’s demands ahead of the Budget, due in the autumn.
Izzi Seccombe, chair of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “People have a right to live the life they want to lead and high quality adult social care and support plays an essential role in this. It is also vital to society. It strengthens communities, reduces pressures on the NHS, supports around 1.5 million jobs and contributes as much as £46bn to the UK economy.
“But work to find a long-term funding solution for adult social care and support has been kicked into the long grass by successive governments for the past two decades and has brought these services to breaking point.
“It has created a deeply uncertain and worrying future outlook for people who use adult social care services now and the growing number of people who will need them in the future.”
The LGA has produced their own ‘green paper’ and would like your views on it. Things you might want to consider are -:
You may not want to answer all of the questions in this consultation or feel they are all relevant to you but please answer those that you can and ask others to as well. Do also give examples of how the current system is failing to meet your needs either due to charging policies, refusal to provide help with specific tasks or unmet needs you have.
To complete the consultation, please read the LGA’s green paper and then submit your views via the online form, which is available at:
Sano Physiotherapy markets itself as a professional service offering sports massage and rehabilitation but has a murky side business renting out its rooms to controversial disability assessor ATOS.
ATOS has recently changed the name of its benefits assessment arm to ‘Independent Assessment Services’ with the words “delivered by ATOS” written in tiny letters underneath. You will not see ATOS branded in big letters across any of Sano Physiotherapy commercial premises despite renting spaces to the much discredited benefits assessor in Pudsey and Castleford.
You will find a picture of Tory MP, Stuart Andrew shaking hands with Matthew Taylor, clinical lead for Sano Physiotherapy LTD outside the companies new premises in Pudsey. Stuart often promotes himself as a community champion in Pudsey with photoshoots like these whilst voting for welfare cuts and benefit changes in parliament that affect his constituents.
The Independent newspaper recently put in a freedom of information request which found the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) paid Independent Assessment Services and Capita nearly £255m last year to perform Personal Independent Payment assessments. How much has Sano Physiotherapy LTD made from this windfall whilst local residents are having to use foodbanks?
Sano Physiotherapy LTD is facilitating controversial disability assessments which potential private customers need to be made aware about so they can choose a more ethical physiotherapist firm that doesn’t have a murky side-line in profiteering from the suffering of benefit claimants.
Please let us know of any other firms involved in aiding Atos or Capita with details of who and where they are. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
The cruel DWP is forcing two disabled claimants (who won a legal challenge against losing benefit when they moved to a Universal Credit area), back to court. One is terminally ill, the other has mental distress. After the judgement in June, the DWP refused to settle out of court for what they suffered — from losing around £180 per month. This means they have to give statements again, and despite winning the case, are still under attack, as the DWP has sought permission from the Court of Appeal to appeal against the judgement we won. https://www.leighday.co.uk/News/News-2018/June-2018/First-legal-challenge-against-Universal-Credit-fin
This is a shocking and disgraceful waste of tax-payers money and a purely vindictive move by DWP.
WinVisible, Disabled People Against Cuts and others are holding a vigil at lunchtime on Jult 30th at the Royal Courts of Justice, WC2R 1 to support full compensation for the claimants and resist government moves to claw back what we win. The court case starts at 10.30, please come to court in the morning if you can, to show our support in the public gallery. Find the court listing here, case of TP v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
Case may continue Tuesday 31 July, please check listings before setting out.
Our Festival of Resistance highlighting the hypocricy of the UK and Kenyan governments hosting a Global Disability Summit kicks off in ernest today/Saturday as our overseas activists arrive in the UK to join in with our fun.
On Sunday we are holding our own global summit which is very over subscribed with guest speakers including -:
Rose Achayo from the National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda (who will be talking about the particular barriers disabled women in Uganda face, the work of her organisation including its work with disabled refugees)
John Clarke from Ontario Coalition against Poverty (who shares DPAC’s concerns over universal basic income as a proposed solution to the future of social security)
Antonios Rellas from a disabled campaign group called Zero Tolerance in Greece (who campaigns against institutionalisation of disabled people and recently testified against Golden Dawn). https://dpac.uk.net/2016/09/greeces-shocking-secretthe-work-of-zero-tolerance/
Bolivian campaigners who were involved in this: https://www.theguardian. com/news/2017/may/05/the- fight-disability-rights- protestors-in-bolivia-on-the- barricades
And successfully forced their government to introduce disability payments for people. Although not yet at a high enough rate to enable an adequate standard of living.
We will be live streaming this conference using our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/disabledpeopleagainstcuts/
And tweeting with the hashtag #Disability&Resistance
Unlike the summit arranged by DfID we will not be having anyone from any large corporations hyping expensive equipment which is beyond the reach of many disabled people to fund.
On Monday and Tuesday follow us on twitter @dis_ppl_protest and please use hashtags #NowIsTheTime and #disability summit
Tweet to any or all of the following saying why the UK government is unfit to host a disability summit.
@IDA_Forum_CRPD gate keepers for who was allowed to come to the summit, to be kind possibly due to ignorance of the UK violation of disabled people’s rights.
Speakers at Tuesday’s summit event
@SophMorgan a disabled model
@Lenin Lenin Moreno (president of Ecuador)
@gabimichetti (vice president of Argentina)
More to follow shortly re-tweets.
And remember watch out for any surprise events happening in the very near future after all no-one ever knows quite where and when DPAC will pop up unexpectedly.
Lenin Moreno, President of Ecuador
Gabriela Michetti, Vice President of Argentina
20 July 2018
We are writing this open letter to you on behalf of Deaf and Disabled people across the UK concerning your involvement in the global disability summit being co-hosted by the UK government in London on 23 and 24 July.
We are strongly in favour of international support that improves the lives of Deaf and Disabled people across the world and welcome co-operation between States that lead to stronger human rights laws and protections. We particularly support the building of international solidarity and links directly between Deaf and Disabled People, our organisations and campaigns.
However, we have the following concerns regarding the July summit:
We appreciate that you may not have had this information when you agreed to involvement in the summit and would be happy to meet to discuss our concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or for further information.
Disabled People Against Cuts
Sisters of Frida
Alliance for Inclusive Education
Mental Health Resistance Network
Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance
Recovery in the Bin
A minister has been asked why the benefits of hundreds of sick and disabled claimants are apparently being sanctioned, even though they should not have to meet any of the strict conditions imposed by the government’s new universal credit system.
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that more than 1,100 claimants of universal credit were being sanctioned in February this year (1,108), even though they had been moved into the “working enough” or “no work-related requirement” group.
They have usually been moved into these groups because they have been found not “fit for work” or are not expected to look for jobs.
The figures also show a striking increase in the number of claimants in these two groups who were being sanctioned from January 2017 (649) to February 2017 (1,109).
The concerns have been raised by the Commons work and pensions committee, after it was sent the figures by employment minister Alok Sharma.
In a letter to Sharma, the committee’s chair, Frank Field, says: “What is the point of applying sanctions to people who cannot work and are not expected to look for jobs?
“The DWP have yet to make the case that benefit sanctions work to get people into employment and it’s difficult to see how they can have that affect for people who are ‘working enough’ or cannot work.
“Benefit sanctions are the only major welfare reform this decade to have never been evaluated, and the picture DWP paints of the policy doesn’t match the troubling stories we’ve heard.”
The committee also raised concerns with Sharma that DWP’s figures “consistently understate” the number of benefit claimants being sanctioned, particularly those on the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA), where there is a high rate of successful appeals.
In Field’s letter, he says that DWP removes a sanction decision from its statistics if it is overturned at an appeal.
This had been pointed out by Dr David Webster, a leading researcher on unemployment and sanctions at the University of Glasgow, when he gave evidence in May to the committee’s inquiry into the benefit sanctions regime.
Webster had told the committee that the only reason DWP had not abandoned ESA sanctions when the National Audit Office reported in November 2016 that their use led to a fall in the time claimants spent in work was because of “embarrassment”.
Field asks Sharma in his letter to publish pre-appeal sanction figures so that “the true picture can be understood”.
In one month, in December 2016, the pre-appeal figures would have been 57 per cent higher (1,173) than the figures published by DWP (749).
By January 2018, the pre-appeal figures were still 30 per cent higher (544 rather than 420).
Asked to respond to the points raised by Field in his letter to Sharma, a DWP spokeswoman declined to explain why disabled people were apparently being sanctioned when there were no conditions attached to their universal credit.
She did not dispute the universal credit sanction figures but said that “where someone’s situation changes and they have different conditionality, we can adjust an ongoing sanction amount”.
And she claimed that “only a small proportion of sanction decisions are appealed and in the cases where they are overturned, the claimant’s payments are backdated”.
19 July 2018
McVey’s U-turn means DWP will pay at least £100 million more to disabled claimants
Disabled people will be paid more than £100 million extra in backdated benefits owed by the government, after a U-turn by work and pensions secretary Esther McVey on the eve of a court hearing.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had previously only agreed to offer a partial backpayment to an estimated 70,000 disabled people who for years did not receive the correct level of out-of-work disability benefits.
The underpayments were caused by the botched migration of former claimants of incapacity benefit and other benefits to the new employment and support allowance (ESA) from 2011 onwards.
The department failed to realise that many of the claimants were entitled to income-related ESA – and therefore to associated disability premiums – rather than just the contributory form of ESA.
Although DWP had previously agreed to pay back as much as £340 million to those affected – with average payments likely to be about £5,000 – it had said it would only backdate arrears to 21 October 2014, the point at which the upper tribunal ruled that DWP should have assessed claimants for both income-related and contribution-based ESA when deciding their entitlement.
DWP had been refusing to pay back another £100 million to £150 million in arrears that dated from before 21 October 2014.
But yesterday (Wednesday), McVey announced that claimants would receive arrears backdated to the date they moved onto ESA, with some claimants now likely to receive up to £10,000 more in arrears.
It is just one in a series of major errors by DWP senior civil servants relating to disability benefits, with the department now believed to be carrying out six separate trawls through the records of disabled people unfairly deprived of benefits.
In a written statement to MPs, McVey said that individuals contacted about their backpayments could expect to receive the “appropriate payment” within 12 weeks after the “relevant information” has been gathered.
Those who have already received arrears payments from 21 October 2014 will have their cases looked at again, with additional arrears paid dating back to the date they were moved onto ESA.
The announcement came as DWP was about to face a court hearing in a judicial review case taken by the Child Poverty Action Group on behalf of a claimant who was underpaid from 2012.
Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons public accounts committee, welcomed McVey’s announcement, which came hours after a report by her committee had attacked DWP’s “culture of indifference”, which saw it take six years to start to address its ESA error.
She said: “I was appalled by the department’s apparent indifference to correcting its mistakes.
“Today’s statement, coming so soon after publication of our report, indicates DWP finally intends to treat this problem with the seriousness it deserves.”
Hillier had said earlier, in publishing her committee’s report, that DWP “simply didn’t listen to what claimants, experts, support organisations and its own staff were saying.
“Its sluggishness in correcting underpayments, years after it accepted responsibility for the error, points to weaknesses at the highest levels of management.
“Indifference has no place in the delivery of vital public services. It must be rooted out wherever it is found.”
19 July 2018 by John Pring, Disability News Service
A regulator has been told there are “issues of concern” about the way it deals with complaints against health and care professionals, including those who write dishonest benefit assessment reports.
The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) agreed in January to look at concerns about the way regulators deal with complaints about nurses, physiotherapists and paramedics who carry out personal independence payment (PIP) assessments for the outsourcing giants Capita and Atos.
It agreed to act after being contacted last year by disabled activist Mark Lucas, who has twice appealed successfully against the results of what he believes were dishonest PIP assessments.
Hundreds of disabled people have come forward over the last 18 months to tell Disability News Service (DNS) how assessors working for Atos and Capita wrote dishonest PIP assessment reports on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.
Many also raised concerns about the apparent refusal of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to take their complaints about these assessments seriously.
Only this week, Lucas received an email from HCPC, explaining that it would not take any further action over his complaint about an occupational therapist who had assessed him for PIP.
He believes the assessor deliberately downplayed the seriousness and frequency of his seizures, but HCPC told him it did not believe this had happened and even if it had, “it would be considered a minor error, which would not be capable of amounting to an allegation of impaired fitness to practice”.
Lucas has twice been found ineligible for PIP following assessments, but on both occasions was later awarded eligibility for the PIP standard daily living rate after appealing to a tribunal.
Frustrated at HCPC’s failure to take another complaint about a PIP assessor seriously, he contacted PSA – which reviews the work of the regulators of health and care professionals – last year.
PSA incorporated Lucas’s concerns into its annual review of HCPC, which found this month that the regulator was meeting only four of the 10 required standards for the way it deals with complaints against healthcare professionals, including those who carry out PIP assessments.
Last year, before Lucas contacted the regulator, PSA had reviewed 100 complaints made to HCPC, including a small number relating to PIP assessments.
David Martin, PSA’s concerns and appointments officer, said the 2017-18 review “concluded that there were issues of concern about the HCPC’s process across all of its activity”, in relation to fitness to practise.
These concerns include the way it deals with the initial stages of the fitness to practise process, and how it determines if there is a “case to answer” against a health and care professional.
Among PSA’s concerns are that HCPC makes it too difficult for complaints about a healthcare professional to be accepted into the fitness to practise process, while other cases are closed at the initial stage instead of being referred to an investigating committee panel.
Martin said HCPC had confirmed that PIP assessment work “should be considered in the same way as any other professional activity of its registrants” and that its procedures “require it to fully consider the concerns it receives about PIP assessors”.
He said: “The HCPC was clear that it considers registrants, acting as PIP assessors, are exercising their professional judgement.
“It therefore considers that allegations of misconduct or lack of competence when carrying out PIP assessments could constitute a fitness to practise concern to be investigated in accordance with its usual process.”
He said HCPC was now “undertaking an action plan” to address the concerns PSA has raised about its fitness to practise processes, and that PSA would probably review further HCPC cases in detail over the next couple of years.
A similar annual review by PSA of NMC is due to be published later this year.
An HCPC spokesman said: “The PSA audited a sample of 100 of our cases as part of their review of our yearly performance review in 2016-17.
“While a small number of these cases related to PIP, the audit was not specifically looking at HCPC’s handling of PIP cases.
“HCPC registrants who are employed in assessor roles are recruited because of their skills and experience as registered health professionals. Therefore, their work and conduct needs to comply with our standards.
“If in the course of conducting a PIP assessment a concern is raised regarding a registrant’s fitness to practise, ie lack of competence or misconduct, then this will be investigated following the same robust and thorough processes and applying the same tests as concerns raised in relation to any other area of a registrant’s practice.
“We have also provided input into the PSA’s review into how regulators approach fitness to practise concerns in relation to PIP assessments and have confirmed our view that the PIP assessment process requires the registrant to employ their professional competencies.
“This year we continued to meet the majority of the PSA’s Standards for Good Regulation.
“Although we did not meet all the standards relating to fitness to practise, the PSA has acknowledged our on-going work to improve our performance in this area and stated that we have made ‘significant progress during this review period’.
“We continue our programme of improvement work to address the issues that were previously identified.”
But Lucas was heavily critical of PSA’s efforts to address his concerns.
He said PSA was “a joke” and a “toothless quango”.
He said: “I am not happy with the way PSA have treated me and it is behaviour that I have been subjected to on many occasions over the last few years.”
Lucas said that complaints processes are “designed to abuse” disabled people because they first “promise the earth”, then “forget” the complaint, and finally “communicate the result from the complaint in a letter with preapproved techniques of neutralisation and consolatory phrases like ‘we realise you will be disappointed’”.
He said: “This experience of the last few years has given me anxiety over making complaints.
“I have spent much time and written many letters, but it is all for nothing because organisations like the PSA are just for show.”
19 July 2018 by John Pring Disability News Service
Four opposition parties demand DWP answers over WCA deaths ‘cover-up’
Two opposition parties are writing urgent letters to work and pensions secretary Esther McVey – while a third is demanding an investigation – about a possible cover-up over documents linking the “fitness for work” test with the deaths of benefit claimants.
Senior figures from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats said this week that they were writing urgently to McVey to ask whether the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had shown the documents to the independent expert the government commissioned to review the work capability assessment (WCA) in 2013 and 2014.
The Green party’s co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, said the failure to be clear about what happened with the documents had “all the hallmarks of a deliberate cover-up”. He has called for an independent investigation.
The SNP also said it would be seeking answers from DWP.
Dr Paul Litchfield was commissioned by DWP to carry out the fourth and fifth reviews of the WCA but has so far refused to say if he was shown letters written by two coroners and a number of secret DWP internal “peer reviews” into deaths linked to the WCA regime.
Litchfield, who was recognised by the prime minister with a CBE in last month’s birthday honours, published the two reviews in December 2013 and November 2014, but neither of them mentioned the documents, all of which link the WCA with the deaths of claimants.
A spokesman for Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said she would be writing to McVey “as a matter of urgency”.
Stephen Lloyd, the Liberal Democrat shadow work and pensions spokesman, said: “I will be writing directly to the secretary of state, Esther McVey, to seek clarification whether or not her department, the DWP, ever showed [Litchfield] the documents linking the WCA to the deaths of benefit claimants.
“The public has a right to know, particularly now he’s been awarded a gong.”
Neil Gray, the SNP’s social justice spokesman at Westminster, added: “This issue has thrown up a number of questions for the DWP and we need a clear and definitive statement on what people knew and when. We will be seeking those answers.”
Even though DWP possessed all the coroner’s letters and peer reviews, it has claimed in a freedom of information response that it holds no information in its records on whether they were shown to Litchfield while he was reviewing the WCA.
Since Disability News Service (DNS) revealed the existence of the documents in the years after Litchfield’s final report was published, concerns have grown that DWP and its ministers deliberately covered-up evidence of the fatal impact of the assessment on sick and disabled people.
The coroner’s letters followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013 and each warned of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.
The call for evidence for Litchfield’s second review was issued on 10 June 2014, five months after coroner Mary Hassell had written to DWP following an inquest into the death of Michael O’Sullivan, who had had significant, long-term mental health problems.
Hassell had told DWP that the trigger for O’Sullivan’s suicide had been the conclusion by civil servants that he was fit for work, but she said that neither DWP nor the Atos doctor who had assessed him through the WCA process had asked his GP, psychologist or psychiatrist for information about his mental health.
Hassell told DWP that it needed to take action “to prevent further deaths” like Michael O’Sullivan’s.
But despite that urgent call, Litchfield’s second review failed to mention Hassell’s letter or a similar letter sent to DWP by another coroner in 2010 following the suicide of Stephen Carré.
Litchfield’s two reviews also failed to mention the peer reviews.
Peer reviews – now known as internal process reviews – must be carried out by civil servants into every death “where suicide is associated with DWP activity”.
One of the aims of these reviews is to “determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved”, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not have been shown to Litchfield, whose job it was to review how the WCA was working.
DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.
Litchfield has so far refused to comment about the documents.
But Professor Malcolm Harrington, the independent expert who carried out the first three reviews of the WCA in 2010, 2011 and 2012, has already told DNS that he believes he was shown neither the first coroner’s letter (the second letter had not yet been written by the time he completed his third review) nor any WCA-related peer reviews.
Bartley said this week: “If the Department for Work and Pensions failed to show Dr Litchfield vital documents linking the work capability assessment with the deaths of benefit claimants, DWP are clearly implicated in a cover-up.
“If he was shown them but didn’t mention them in his reports, then so was he.
“This has all the hallmarks of a deliberate cover-up over the fatal impact of the assessment on sick and disabled people.
“There is no justification for secrecy, it is clearly in the public interest for the truth to be told and there should be an independent investigation of what happened.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “As we’ve previously said, this was an independent review, and DWP provided information alongside other stakeholders – on request.
“Any evidence used was referenced in the review.”
19 July 2018 story by John Pring Disability News Service
Next week DfID will be jointly hosting a Disability Summit with the Kenyan government. While we fully support all and any initiaitives to improve the lives and circumstances of disabled people in other countries we can only say that the UK government’s choice of partner for this summit seems shameful and inapprpriate. Of course there is nothing new in that and no-one who has endured the never ending attacks against disabled people’s human rights in the UK will be surprised.
You can see more about the summit
https://www.gov.uk/government/ news/uk-government-to-host-its -first-ever-global-disability- summit [NB this announcement came out the same day as they snuck out the much criticised and long awaited command paper “Improving Lives” through which conditionality was extended to all groups of disabled people]
So what of their partner country Kenya?
The Government of Kenya criminalises and persecutes LGBTQI+ Disabled people
It is hard to imagine a less suitable partner to co-host a Global Disability Summit than the Government of Kenya — apart from its neighbor, Uganda. It is illegal to be gay in both countries, and as a result many LGBTQI+ people develop lifelong impairments.
LGBTQI+ people in Kenya are routinely banished from their families, denied work and accommodation, imprisoned and persecuted. They face severe barriers to forming and maintaining relationships and to living as a couple, the ‘Right to Family Life’ that every human is promised. This results in widespread damage to their mental and physical health, creating impairments where none previously existed.
This is reflected in the high level of asylum applications to the UK from LGBTQI+ asylum seekers from African countries. Despite their experiences, the majority are then refused asylum in the UK and forcibly returned home, where many disappear or are murdered.
Just this April, President Kenyatta said that LGBT rights are “not acceptable” and not “an issue of human rights”. The Kenyan Government has also claimed this is a non-issue for Kenyans, and no doubt would argue that it has nothing to do with the Summit.
However, if you are Kenyan or Ugandan and are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer or intersex, it is an issue that completely dominates and dictates your life. For many Disabled people from Kenya, it is the reason they developed an impairment in the first place.
Regard, the UK’s LGBTQI+ Disabled People’s Organisation, says: “The involvement of the Government of Kenya discredits any debate that takes place at the Summit. Whatever the political reasons for involving Kenya in co-hosting the Summit, the rights and welfare of Disabled people seem to have had very little to do with it.”
Edge Fund is recruiting for the post of Regional Organiser and Administrator. If you are committed to activism, systemic change and creating a world free of injustice and inequality, we want you to apply. If you’re unsure, feel free to contact us on email@example.com
The Edge Fund is a grant-making body with a difference. We support efforts to achieve social, economic and environmental justice and to end imbalances in wealth and power – and give those we aim to support a say in how money is distributed. For more information visit www.edgefund.org.uk
We are a membership based organisation, run through a non-hierarchical structure, with a Facilitating Group overseeing the strategic running of the organisation. The day to day runnings are overseen by the two Regional Organisers who work closely together. We already have someone in post for the Regional Organiser and Communications post, who is based in London. We are looking to recruit a Regional Organiser and Administrator who will preferably be based in North England or Scotland and we welcome applications from people based in Ireland or Northern Ireland.
We would like to encourage applications by people from minoritised and racialised communities, people underrepresented in similar roles and people without university degrees. Deadline for applications has been extended to 5pm, Friday 20th July.
Info here about regional actions for the stop trump day of action
Three asks for Stop Trump
Last year we – as Stop Trump Coalition members – committed to making the resistance against Trump and everything he stands for one of the biggest and most visible demonstrations in British history. With Trump’s visit just three weeks away we need you to help make that happen by using your power and influence to mobilise on and offline.
Do these three things:
ONE: Populate and share the carnival of resistance map which is now LIVE.
Actions happening regionally and coaches to the London march and rally are being plotted on the carnival of resistance map. Add yours and encourage your followers to do the same. Share the map as widely as you can.
TWO: Let people know why you’re joining the carnival
Record a one-minute clip like these:
Send them to us (mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org ) or post them on your own social media using #CarnivalofResistance #Resist #StopTrumpism
THREE: Follow and engage with us on social media
Follow and share the Stop Trump Coalition on social media – we’re posting daily on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so stay up to date on the latest and help get more people involved. Use #carnivalofresistance #resist #stoptrumpism as often as you can!
Stop Trump Coalition
#carnivalofresistance #resist #stoptrumpism
DfID and DPAC Global Summits
In response to the UN disability committee findings and criticism of their record on disability rights, the Tories have been using international comparisons. The previous Minister for Disabled People used her time up in a debate on the UN CRPD that the SNP had tabled talking about how when she was in the navy she had liberated all these poor starving neglected disabled orphans from “the socialist republic of Romania.”
The implication is always that disabled people in the UK are over-privileged and should be grateful for what we get here. This shows a misunderstanding of the UN Convention as a progressive tool for rights implementation.
The same day as a much criticised government strategy on disability, health and work was published, the previous Minister for Disabled People, Penny Morduant, made an announcement in her new role as Minister for International Development that the UK would be holding a global summit on disability at the end of July 2018. This has proved a very popular initiative with international organisations falling over themselves to be involved and the Tories are using it to its maximum to validate their self-proclaimed status as “world leaders in disability”.
It is also linked to a 27m international disability development support programme and you can see from the announcement about the focus on technology companies (and opening up new markets).
We obviously support better rights for all disabled people regardless of where they live but cannot let the Tories continue to pass themselves off as world leaders in disability rights when they have been found guilty of the grave and systematic violation of those rights and their policies have been called a ‘human catastrophe’ by the UN Disability Committee.
Therefore we will be holding our own summit on Sunday, July 22nd with input from disabled activists from the global South. This will be near the Olympic Park although the venue is still to be confirmed.
On July 24th the actual day of the summit please join us for some on-line activism.
Further details to follow shortly.