May 192019
 

A new play coming on next week, inspired by a disabled women\’s fight to avoid been institutionalised by the government and to get back to her flat. Just use this link – just £10 or £5! http://buytickets.at/backtohackney Event: Theatre production – ‘Back to Hackney’ Venue: Theatro Technis, 26 Crowndale Road, Mornington Crescent, London, NW1 1TP Transport: Nearest tube – Mornington Crescent 7 mins walk, Camden Town 10 mins walk. Buses 46 & 214 stop in Crowndale Road near the theatre.Buses 24, 27, 29, 88,134, 168 & 253 all stop nearby in Camden High Street Running time: 90 minutes with an interval Dates of run: 22 May – 1 June 2019 Time: 7:30pm   \’\’Inspired by real life events and the recent drastic cuts to adult social care in the UK, this heart-warming drama set in a spinal rehabilitation ward, explores one disabled woman’s journey to avoid being institutionalised by the authorities and her desperate fight to get back to her flat in Hackney!\’\’ Writer/Director: Panayiota Panteli www.backtohackney.com Recently selected for the BFI Writers Lab and is an alumni of the Talent Campus at London Screenwriters Festival. This work launches Theatro Technis initiative to champion women’s voices in the arena of new writing.   Cast includes: Teresa Zaylor https://www.spotlight.com/3578-7862-0832   Kathryn Perkins  https://www.spotlight.com//2792-4537- 7778  Panos Savvides  Spotlight: PANOS SAVVIDES   Lucy Christy Spotlight: LUCY CHRISTY Anna Antoniades Spotlight: ANNA ANTONIADES

 

 Posted by at 18:24
May 192019
 

European Disability Forum | nothing about us without us

We would like to ask for your help with the European Elections. They are approaching and EDF needs your help to assure that the next EU Parliament includes a strong group of MEPs that can help us advance our rights. For this we need your help on 3 things:

 

  • Send the Disability Rights pledge to candidates for the EU Parliament.. The pledge is a written commitment that candidates will support disability rights and join the Disability Intergroup in the Parliament.  Unfortunately no MEP from Ireland signed yet We would need your help in contacting candidates of your country. You can find in attachment the pledge, a model letter and an excel list with the email addresses of some of the candidates for your country (not exhaustive). The list was a joint effort with other civil society organisations – please don’t share it outside your members.  These is the list of candidates who already signed.

 

  • Tell us about candidates with disabilities. We are building an internal list of candidates with disabilities for the EU Parliament. If you know some, please let us know.

 

  • Promote the vote of persons with disabilities. To do so we have a short article on 10 reasons to vote (in attach), and a full report on the rights of persons with disabilities in the EU. Feel free to translate and share as you see fit.

 

Could you let us know if you can help us with these requests and any additional actions for the EP elections? After the 10th of May, we may contact missing candidates to ensure a broad support across the EU.

 

 

Documents attached:

Documents attached:

Persons with disabilities: 10 reasons to vote in the European elections https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1U1Ac0zsTOaDpTNCR1Ch2ftvF1SgdfTNA

Model letter to MEPs https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1U1Ac0zsTOaDpTNCR1Ch2ftvF1SgdfTNA

European elections. List of UK candidates.

https://drive.google.com/drive/u/0/folders/1U1Ac0zsTOaDpTNCR1Ch2ftvF1SgdfTNA

 

 

 Posted by at 17:53
May 182019
 

[From Leigh Day Solicitors website]

Universal Credit group action

Following recent legal challenges to Universal Credit, we [Leigh Day Solicitors] are bringing compensation claims for people who have migrated to Universal Credit, prior to 16th January 2019, and have lost their disability premiums. A single person who was previously in moved onto Universal Credit around a year ago will have lost just over £4000 in the last year. This figure increases to just under £8,000 for a couple.

The removal of these premiums has been confirmed by the courts to be unlawful and as a result we are bringing claims (on a no win no fee basis) against the Department of Work and Pensions. These claims may be brought on behalf of all of those who have suffered the loss of their premiums as a result of a migration to Universal Credit before 16 January 2019.

If you have previously been claiming legacy benefits, such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), with a Severe Disability Premium (SDP) or Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP) and have lost these payments following a move to Universal Credit, we would like to hear from you.

If this applies to you or one of your services users, please get in touch by filling out one of our forms, or alternatively you can contact us by email or telephone 0161 804 0760. Please also see our frequently asked questions.

 Posted by at 23:02
May 162019
 

Direct action pledge after DWP pays tabloid to air-brush universal credit

Disabled activists are to target a tabloid newspaper with direct action after it signed an advertising deal with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to promote its “toxic” universal credit benefit system.

A leaked DWP document – seen by Disability News Service (DNS) – shows the department has signed an agreement with the Metro free newspaper series to publish a nine-week series of advertising features on universal credit (UC).

The adverts will, says the DWP memo, “myth-bust the common inaccuracies reported on UC” and “explain what UC is and how it works in reality”, as part of a series of measures being taken by the department across the country to promote UC.

It is believed the Metro – part of the same company as the Daily Mail – will begin running the advertising campaign on Friday 31 May.

The memo is thought to have been published on the DWP intranet on 2 May, and later passed to the Sheffield branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).

Jennifer Jones, a founding member of Sheffield DPAC, said: “Obviously we were shocked upon reading it.

It is irrefutable proof that there is a coordinated campaign to spread fake newspaper articles and pro-UC propaganda, despite the level of misery that people are suffering.

Not only that, but the British public are being charged for the privilege.

It is insulting but it is also unbelievably cruel to anybody who is suffering as a result of universal credit.”

She said the memo had arrived at a time when she and fellow activists had begun to notice posts praising UC suddenly appearing on Facebook pages set up to support claimants – among all the usual “misery and desperation” – while a string of flattering articles about UC began to appear in local newspapers.

DPAC’s national steering group said it was appalled at the idea of what will be a “misleading advertising campaign”.

It said UC had “robbed millions from women pensioners, disabled people, women and children all of whom have been pushed deeper and deeper into poverty, and despair”, with many “forced to resort to prostitution and crime in order to survive”. 

DPAC has now called on its supporters to visit locations where the free paper is given away – such as train and tube stations – and “remove or otherwise prevent as many as possible” from being read from 31 May.

DPAC is also preparing a dossier of evidence about the DWP-Metro deal to pass to the advertising watchdog, and pledges to “make sure the Metro never want another DWP advert again”.

Jones said: “We refuse to be force-fed government propaganda, so we will put a stop to it ourselves.

If they want us to be militant, we will be militant. We are not taking it anymore.”

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

Last month, DNS reported how DWP had destroyed a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of claimants of UC and other benefits in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.

Last November, DNS revealed how DWP had been forced to soften the “threatening” tone of the agreement that claimants of universal credit are forced to sign to receive their benefits, following a secret review into the death of a claimant.

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

Earlier that month, Alston was told how a man with learning difficulties died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto the “chaotic” universal credit system that left him hundreds of pounds in debt.

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

This month’s leaked DWP memo was written by three senior civil servants, including Neil Couling, director general of the universal credit programme.

It complains about media “negativity and scaremongering” about UC – even though much of the most significant criticism has come from respected organisations such as the UN and the NAO – and brags about the “great work we do to transform the lives of millions of people for the better”.

The Metro coverage will begin with a “wraparound” advertising feature – which will likely include a fake front page praising UC – of four pages, written by DWP, that compare the “myths” with “the truth” about UC.

The Guardian, which broke the story of the campaign earlier this week, also revealed that a Metro national “cover wrap” costs £250,000 (PDF), although the full advertising campaign will cost many tens of thousands of pounds more.

The memo even admits that DWP will deliberately not be using its branding on the features, intentionally disguising their origin, which appears to be a breach of advertising guidelines.

The memo says the Metro advertising features will be part of a wider campaign “to tackle misconceptions and improve the reputation of UC”, which has already included work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd writing to every MP, and to journalists, asking them to “come and see for themselves the great work we do”.

The memo also mentions a new three-part BBC documentary, in which it says the broadcaster will “intelligently explore” UC by “spending time with our people who are instrumental in implementing it”.

The memo says the documentary, which will air this autumn, will be “a fantastic opportunity for us”.

But a separate document from the PCS union expresses concerns about the documentary and warns of potential penalties that might be imposed on staff who are critical of DWP when interviewed by the BBC.

A BBC press release on the documentary said it would “take a fresh look” at UC and “unearth the strengths and limitations of the new system to understand the impact and reality of Universal Credit today”.

It will include interviews with work coaches, Rudd, senior civil servants, claimants, local authorities, advice agencies and charities.

Asked about the memo and the Metro advertising campaign, DWP said it did not comment on leaked documents, but a spokesperson said: “It’s important people know about the benefits available to them, and we regularly advertise universal credit.

All our advertising abides by the strict guidelines set by the Advertising Standards Authority.”

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

16 May 2019

 

 

Commons civil servants block DNS over DWP benefit deaths cover-up

House of Commons civil servants have blocked attempts to confirm that an influential MP is opposing efforts to highlight a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) cover-up of deaths linked to its social security reforms.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been trying since last week to secure a response from Frank Field, who chairs the Commons work and pensions select committee, to the cover-up by DWP ministers and senior civil servants.

A spokesperson for the committee has said that “we cannot – and will not” comment, but she has since refused to confirm whether the questions about the cover-up had been passed to Field, or whether the refusal to comment had been made solely by civil servants.

DNS has attempted to contact senior figures within the House of Commons communications department but has encountered further obstruction.

By noon today (Thursday), it was still not clear whether Field himself was refusing to comment on the cover-up, or whether Commons civil servants were simply refusing to put questions from DNS to the independent MP.

DNS has previously run news stories critical of Field and his committee, including – in December 2017 – its refusal to ask the new minister for disabled people about figures that showed attempted suicides among people claiming out-of-work disability benefits doubled between 2007 and 2014.

Another news story, in September 2017, saw disabled activists express outrage after Field suggested that employers should be allowed to pay some disabled people less than the minimum wage.

Field was asked last Friday for a response to proof that DWP failed to send its own independent reviewer crucial documents about the work capability assessment.

But Field – or his civil servants – have so far shown no interest in examining the evidence and have refused to comment on the DWP cover-up, even though Labour’s Debbie Abrahams has written to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd demanding an explanation.

Although Field left DWP years before the cover-up took place, he himself was a work and pensions minister in the early years of the last Labour government, between 1997 and 1998.

DNS asked Field if he believed there should be an inquiry into links between the deaths of claimants and the actions of ministers or civil servants, and if he believed that any evidence of misconduct in public office by ministers or civil servants should be passed to police for a possible criminal investigation, both of which are key demands of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*.

MPs are slowly beginning to call for a criminal investigation, despite the resistance of influential figures like Field.

Last week, independent MP Stephen Lloyd spoke out in support of the idea of a criminal investigation into alleged misconduct, and he was joined this week by Labour’s former shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams.

Abrahams has written to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd seeking answers and expressing “grave concerns” about the reported cover-up, and also raised the issue in the House of Commons (see separate story).

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, has also raised concerns about DWP’s actions.

She said this week: “It is unacceptable that the DWP has failed to share this vital information with an independent investigator, exposing the tragic consequences of the flawed work capability assessment.  

Instead, the government has consistently defended the cruel and callous WCA, which has been linked with preventable harm and suicide.   

It is vital that any evidence of criminal misconduct in public office by civil servants or ministers is passed to police. 

Labour supports the demands for justice for Jodey Whiting and those like her.

It is time for an urgent independent inquiry into deaths associated with the work capability assessment so that disabled people and their families are given the answers that they deserve.” 

DNS revealed last week that, following intervention from the Information Commissioner’s Office, DWP had finally admitted that two letters written by coroners, and a series of secret “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants, were hidden from the team set up to review the work capability assessment (WCA), under Dr Paul Litchfield.

DWP has this week finally responded to DNS questions about the ICO evidence.

A spokesperson said: “DWP co-operated fully with the Litchfield reviews, and shared all relevant information which was requested by Dr Litchfield and his team.

DWP was not asked by Dr Litchfield or his review for information on the specific cases you refer to.

The issues investigated and evidence sought is at the discretion of the independent reviewer, and according to the terms of reference of their review.”

But she has been unable to explain how Litchfield’s team could have requested information – the secret peer reviews and coroners’ letters – if they did not know they existed.

The existence of the letters and links between peer reviews and the WCA were not revealed by DNS until after the final Litchfield report was published.

The DWP spokesperson also refused to say if DWP believed the cover-up showed there needed to be an independent inquiry, and that any evidence suggesting criminal misconduct in public office should be passed to the police.

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

16 May 2019

 

 

Senior MP calls on Rudd to act over DWP’s WCA deaths cover-up

A Labour MP has written to the work and pensions secretary to call for an inquiry into deaths linked to government social security reforms, and for evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers or civil servants to be passed to police.

Debbie Abrahams made the demands – key elements of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petitionin a letter to Amber Rudd, in which she expressed “grave concerns” about the government’s failure to pass documents linking its reforms with the deaths of disabled people to its own independent reviewer.

Abrahams, a former shadow work and pensions secretary, had been told by Disability News Service (DNS) that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had finally admitted failing to send key letters and secret reviews to the team reviewing the work capability assessment (WCA).

In her letter, Abrahams demanded urgent answers to “these very serious questions”.

She told Rudd: “I am concerned that under your predecessors, two letters written by coroners, and a series of ‘peer reviews’ into the deaths of claimants, were not sent to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert ministers hired to review the Work Capability Assessment in 2013 and 2014.

I would be grateful if you would confirm that these reports are correct and outline what steps you have taken to ensure such an omission could not recur.”

Abrahams also raised the issue during work and pensions questions in the House of Commons on Monday.

But the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, failed to answer her questions, insisting instead that the government had “accepted and implemented” more than 100 recommendations made by the WCA reviews and would “continue to do all that we can to improve the process for claimants”.

Abrahams told DNS afterwards: “His response, or lack of, speaks for itself.”

In her letter to Rudd, she said there needed to be an independent inquiry into all deaths linked to the government’s social security reforms, with any evidence of criminal misconduct in public office by ministers or civil servants to be passed to police.

DNS revealed last week how ministers failed to send the review team two letters from coroners and a series of internal reviews, even though they knew the documents linked the WCA with the deaths of disabled people.

The admission came in DWP’s response to a complaint lodged by DNS with the Information Commissioner’s Office about the department’s failure to confirm if it passed the information to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert ministers hired to review the WCA in 2013 and 2014.

A senior ICO case officer told DNS: “Consultation with the ex-review team elicited statements that no such information was received from DWP nor were any physical files sent to stores.”

DWP has this week finally responded to DNS questions about the ICO evidence.

A spokesperson said: “DWP co-operated fully with the Litchfield reviews, and shared all relevant information which was requested by Dr Litchfield and his team.

DWP was not asked by Dr Litchfield or his review for information on the specific cases you refer to.

The issues investigated and evidence sought is at the discretion of the independent reviewer, and according to the terms of reference of their review.”

But she has been unable to explain how Litchfield’s team could have requested information – the secret peer reviews and coroners’ letters – if they did not know they existed.

The existence of the letters and the links between peer reviews and the WCA were not revealed by DNS until after the final Litchfield report was published.

She also refused to say if DWP believed the cover-up showed there needed to be an independent inquiry, and that any evidence suggesting criminal misconduct in public office should be passed to the police.

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

16 May 2019

 

 

Disabled peer calls for radical changes to ensure ‘wraparound’ support

A disabled crossbench peer has called on the government to introduce a “comprehensive” scheme that would provide the kind of “wraparound” support that would allow disabled people to live an independent life.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell called for a radical and comprehensive “access to living scheme” to replace the current system of support that divides disabled people into “unwieldy boxes of social care, continuing healthcare, housing or employment support”.

She told fellow peers that in the 13 years since a Labour government committed to a policy of promoting independent living and integrated support, progress had “ground nearly to a halt”, and in some areas was “regressing rapidly”.

She pointed to a combination of austerity measures, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the introduction of personal independence payment, and “a lack of progress in the realisation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.

Baroness Campbell told peers of proposals developed by the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG)*, which she chairs, which include incorporating article 19 of the UN convention – on independent living – into UK law.

Such a move would provide a legal right to independent living for the first time.

ILSG wants to see a national access to living fund, bringing together the various sources of support into one pot, with the government reinvesting in user-led regional organisations such as centres for independent living, and helping to fund new co-operatives, social enterprises, community businesses and other charities.

Baroness Campbell said: “This would enable a hundred flowers to blossom, making for a strong access to living culture, and enabling all disabled people – all, no matter what their medical condition – to maximise their life chances.

An access to living investment would foster the transformative social capital we have yet failed to realise under current outdated systems, which, in social care support alone, now offer only the top-down, survival safety-net services.”

Responding to the debate on behalf of the government, the Tory peer Baroness Barran said she would be “absolutely delighted” to meet the ILSG.

They were taking part in a Lords debate secured by the Tory peer Lord Borwick on the issues facing disabled people and the “potential for improved treatment and outcomes in the next 50 years”.

Another crossbench disabled peer, Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, spoke of the continuing problems she faced with the inaccessible rail system, including “getting on and off trains”, the booking system and the frequent lack of accessible toilets.

She also highlighted the failure of the new Caledonian Sleeper – which has received more than £100 million in public funding from the UK and Scottish governments – to include any accessible showers, as reported last week by Disability News Service.

She told peers: “I am looking forward to a time when I book such a journey and push through the station in my pyjamas looking for an accessible shower that may or may not be in the station. I am not sure that anyone is ready for that.”

And she criticised the rail industry’s failure to consult with disabled people, describing it as a “travesty”, and called on the government to look again at rail regulations so that disabled people “can have the same miserable experience as everybody else”.

Baroness Barran said she would raise the points made by Baroness Grey-Thompson with the Department for Transport, “particularly regarding design regulations and co-production”.

The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said it was “shocking” that the government had still not published its adult social care green paper, and she said that “far more attention” needed to be paid to the provision of accessible, adaptable and wheelchair-accessible homes.

She also said she wanted to see more accessible restaurants, cafes, shops and hotels, and “far more disabled people not just in employment but in positions of power and influence as local councillors, school governors, mayors, CEOs, MPs, peers, judges and, yes, government ministers”.

She said: “In 50 years’ time, life may well be better for all disabled people, but only if those in positions of leadership always involve disabled people themselves in what they really need and what really works for them.”

Lord Borwick suggested that campaigners were “winning the argument” for all new homes to be built to the Lifetime Homes standard.

Baroness Thornton, for Labour, said there had almost been a “perfect storm” of failed public policy on disability, including £7 billion taken out of adult social care budgets because of reduced funding since 2010, four-fifths of local authorities saying there was not enough provision of social care services, and a social care system that was “in crisis”.

Baroness Barran accepted that key indicators still showed “multiple disadvantages for disabled people, from poverty to educational outcomes, employment, discrimination, isolation and a lack of opportunity”.

But she said the government was “committed to addressing this across a range of key policy areas including, to name but three, employment, healthcare and transport”.

*ILSG has been working on protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights to independent living in England since 2013. Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.

16 May 2019

 

 

Panel seeks DPOs for pioneering partnership with mayor

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) across Greater Manchester have been given the chance to take part in a pioneering new partnership with local government.

Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, is funding a new Disabled People’s Panel (DPP) that will work with him and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) he chairs.

The authority – whose other 10 members are the leaders of Greater Manchester’s 10 borough councils – has commissioned Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) to set up the panel.

The panel will aim to shape, challenge and influence policy affecting disabled people across Greater Manchester, by advising and consulting with GMCA.

The panel’s members will be local disability organisations drawn from across Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs, with most of them likely to be DPOs committed to the social model of disability, with strong engagement with their local community, and successful representation of diverse groups, including LGBT and black and minority ethnic communities.

Those taking part will receive an involvement fee from the mayor’s office, while two GMCDP staff are being paid to set up the panel, keep it running and help it liaise with local authorities across Greater Manchester.

Manchester has become the first city region in the UK to introduce a disabled people’s panel that will be involved in such a senior level of strategic policy-making.

It is a significant success for GMCDP, which said before Burnham’s election as Greater Manchester’s first elected mayor in 2017 that it hoped to persuade the successful mayoral candidate to make the region a trailblazer for disability rights in England and “develop ground-breaking initiatives to tackle disability”.

Rick Burgess, the newly-appointed outreach and panel development worker at GMCDP, said: “It’s an experiment and it’s an adventure because it’s never been done before, and it’s always worth trying a new way of interfacing with power to make things better for disabled people.

The long-term aim is to have an ongoing engagement between disabled people across Manchester and the organisations that make policy across Manchester.

Because of devolution, there are opportunities to do things differently from Westminster.

Central government in Westminster has been condemned by the UN for how they treat disabled people. In Greater Manchester we can certainly do better than that.

Some of what we can do is mitigation or harm reduction when there are bad policies nationally.

I would hope we can find ways to lessen their harmful impact on people.”

The mayor’s office has agreed that the organisations appointed to the panel will receive an involvement fee and training, in contrast to the unpaid chairs and members of the Regional Stakeholder Network being set up by the government’s Office for Disability Issues.

Burgess said: “Fair play to Andy Burnham and the combined authority. They have thought to themselves: we don’t know everything, maybe we need to listen to the people who are experts in their own lives on how we make policy and stuff.

It is democracy in action. We are looking to gather up the views of disabled people throughout Greater Manchester and affect policy-making at the highest level.”

Although some of the panel members may not be organisations led and controlled by disabled people, Burgess hopes and expects that most of them will be.

He said: “This is for disabled people to change the policies that affect them, so it is primarily about disabled people forming the panel.”

He stressed that the panel would decide its own priorities, but issues that are consistently coming up in discussion with disabled people in Greater Manchester are transport, housing, social care and benefits, and then accessibility and employment, he said.

As well as a panel of probably between 15 and 20 members, organisations will also be able to ask to be associate members, so they can contribute and be kept informed of its work.

Burgess said GMCDP was keen to spread the idea of the DPP to other parts of the country if it is successful, providing an “incredibly representative engagement between power and disabled people so eventually power becomes less ableist and more inclusive and removes those barriers we are always talking about”.

The deadline for applications to join the panel is 28 May.

16 May 2019

 

 

Disabled activist tells parliamentary meeting of need for ‘new approach’ to social care

A leading disabled activist has told a parliamentary meeting of the need for a “new approach” to supporting disabled people that focuses on the promotion of independent living.

Bob Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People and a director of Being the Boss, a user-led organisation which supports disabled people who employ PAs, told the meeting that the system of social support for disabled people “has not ever been fit for purpose”.

He said a new approach to supporting disabled people should draw upon both the last Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People strategy and demands by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) for a new national independent living support service that would eliminate the postcode lottery in support.

ROFA wants a legal right to independent living, and a national independent living service funded by general taxation and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people.

The meeting was organised by the Reclaim Social Care (RSC) campaign, which itself was born from Health Campaigns Together, a coalition that brings together organisations fighting to defend the NHS.

RSC aims to develop a parallel campaign to Health Campaigns Together, for a “properly funded and publicly accountable” social care system.

RSC wants a universal social care service, free at the point of use to all who need it, fully funded through progressive taxation, and locally provided, locally accountable and designed as far as possible by service-users.

But Williams-Findlay told the meeting that managing the RSC campaign would not be easy because there were groups and individuals who viewed the social care crisis from different perspectives or felt the need to champion specific groups.

It is believed that only two MPs attended the meeting – Labour’s Eleanor Smith and Rachael Maskell – and Williams-Findlay said afterwards that engaging MPs on the subject was “proving difficult”.

He told Disability News Service that ROFA’s plans were not about reshaping the “existing monster” but “a complete transformation” that would end the “neoliberal market-facing services and commodification of service-users”.

He said: “It’s hard to sense the support from mainstream campaigners for the kind of approach we are suggesting because of the diversity of opinion.

Supporting the Reclaim Social Care campaign is challenging as many of the campaigners are from traditional health backgrounds or are carers; therefore, they are not coming from the perspective we advocate.”

He said the RSC campaign needed to “acknowledge that the majority of the public have no idea what ‘social care’ is and accept stereotyped views”.

He said the campaign should “try and educate everyone about the different reasons people have for requiring social support” and “how this shapes the type of service delivery that needs to be offered and the consequences involved”.

And he warned that simply “reclaiming or reinventing” social care was not good enough because “the current crisis means we’ve gone beyond seeking urgent reform, and therefore a full transformation of the system is required”.

16 May 2019

 

 

Government finally acts on Changing Places call

New large public buildings such as shopping centres, sports stadiums and cinema complexes will soon have to include a Changing Places accessible toilet, according to government proposals.

The government has announced a consultation on the plans – which will also affect existing large public buildings that undergo significant alterations – more than two years after the idea was recommended by the Commons women and equalities committee.

That was followed last year by a petition calling for Changing Places to be provided in all large public buildings as they are built, redeveloped or refurbished, which secured more than 57,000 signatures.

Now the government has finally agreed to act by making changes to building regulations.

Its proposals would affect public buildings such as new theatres with at least 500 seats, museums and art galleries that expect to receive more than 300,000 visitors a year, cinema complexes with at least five screens, and hospitals and primary care centres.

It should mean more than 150 new Changing Places toilets – facilities with extra space and equipment such as hoists and changing benches for disabled people who cannot use standard accessible toilets – every year.

But it will not affect existing buildings unless they seek planning permission for significant alterations.

There are currently more than 1,300 Changing Place toilets across the UK.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government had announced it was considering a change to building regulations on 24 December.

Now it has confirmed that it wants to go ahead with the plans and is seeking views on its proposals through a 10-week consultation, which closes on 21 July.

Last month, the Department for Transport, in partnership with the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK (MDUK), launched a £2 million fund for Changing Places toilets to be installed in existing motorway service stations.

The Department of Health and Social Care will also soon launch its own £2 million fund for NHS Trusts to install new Changing Places in more than 100 hospitals across England.

Fiona Anderson, from Bolton, a member of MDUK’s Trailblazers network of young disabled campaigners, and herself a user of Changing Places toilets, said: “A lack of Changing Places toilets has led to me deciding to have surgery, which will give me more freedom to go to the toilet.

If these facilities were in every large public building, I would no longer have to endure the pain of postponing going to the toilet all day and the ever-present dark cloud of sepsis occurring would be lifted.

Ultimately, I also wouldn’t need to have a catheter fitted, which would mean the world to me. I’m not incontinent – I simply can’t transfer to a toilet without a hoist.

Changing Places toilets are a much-needed lifeline. But with so few of them available, people like me are forced to sacrifice our dignity and independence.”

Rishi Sunak, the local government minister, said: “Everyone should have the freedom to enjoy days out in dignity and comfort.

For severely disabled people, this is made very difficult because there are not enough Changing Places toilets.

We’ve made some progress, but I’m determined to increase the number of these life-enhancing facilities, so people are given the dignity they deserve.

I’m pleased so many people will be helped by this major change.”

16 May 2019

 

 

New access fund helps nearly 20 disabled politicians win council seats

A new fund to support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office helped 19 disabled people win seats on local councils at this month’s elections.

The EnAble Fund for Elected Office only went live in January, handing out 42 grants to help disabled candidates in England with the disability-related expenses of standing for elected office.

The fund, administered by Disability Rights UK (DR UK) on behalf of the Local Government Association (LGA), is only a temporary replacement for the Access to Elected Office Fund, which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years.

The Government Equalities Office has provided funding of £250,000 for the temporary fund, covering expenses such as British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares, but it is not clear what will happen after it closes in March 2020.

Disabled politicians have previously warned that the temporary fund was only a “first step” and was a “drop in the ocean” of what was required to provide a long-term solution to allow disabled politicians to compete on a level playing-field with non-disabled candidates.

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

Anna Denham, DR UK’s project manager for the EnAble fund, said: “Feedback from participants, including from several who were not elected, is that the fund enabled them to participate equally, which both they – and DR UK – view as a success.

We would of course like to see funding continue beyond March 2020 and be available to candidates standing in any (local) government election in England.

We therefore recognise the EnAble fund as a first stepping-stone towards that goal.

Being a UK-based charity, we would also like to see similar programmes launched in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Above all, we would like to see disabled candidates and councillors receive better reasonable adjustments at all stages, from pre-selection through to serving in elected office.

However, we acknowledge that these goals are long-term and not within the remit of the current EnAble Fund.”

DR UK was unable to say whether there have been any applications for funding for this month’s European elections, which are only taking place because of parliament’s Brexit crisis, or how much funding has been allocated so far.

It has also been unable to say if parliamentary candidates will be able to apply for funding if a general election is called before March 2020.

But disabled candidates for next May’s police and crime commissioner elections can apply for support from the fund.

Cllr Peter Fleming, chair of LGA’s improvement and innovation board, said: “It is vital that the make-up of councils reflects their communities and their experience.

The LGA has been constantly working with councils towards increasing diversity and inclusion, including running our Be a Councillor campaign.”

He added: “Councils want to see more disabled people, parents and carers stand for election and to step up to leadership roles in local government to create a working environment which is attractive and supportive for people from all groups and backgrounds.”

16 May 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:52
May 142019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 Posted by at 21:47
May 132019
 

One article from The News in Portsmouth has alerted families on benefits of a scam linked to Universal Credit. https://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/crime/warning-as-fraudsters-dressed-in-suits-con-people-into-taking-out-universal-credit-in-new-scam-1-8923710

But it is happening in other places too, and Hillingdon Citizen Advice Bureau published the same warning, and advice about conmen going door to door, pretending to be DWP staff. Read their release below:

Release from Hillingdon Citizen Advice Bureau
Smartly-dressed scammers in the local area have been offering people interest-free loans or quick cash, in return for a fee. Sometimes they refer to it as a “government loan”
Some have been going door-to-door, pretending they are DWP staff calling to help with claims for Universal Credit.
Others have approached people in pubs, offering them money in return for proof of identity and their bank account details.
They may target people in your neighbourhood!
Having all your details, they set up a Universal Credit claim in your name and get you a benefit advance, but take a share of this – often hundreds of pounds.
They don’t tell you this stops your other benefits and tax credits, that you can’t go back to these once you are on Universal Credit and that you could get less money on UC.
You also have to pay back all of the loan from your benefits, including the money the scammer takes from you.
If someone tries to scam you, call the police. DWP and Citizens Advice staff NEVER COLD CALL to make benefit claims.

 Posted by at 08:05
May 102019
 
On Monday the 13th of May, Centrica will be hosting their Annual General Meeting.

Join Fuel Poverty Action to put the spotlight on Centrica, a multinational company that owns British Gas – whose investments provide the financial lifeline that allows Cuadrilla to continue its attempts to frack the Lancashire countryside, while driving up fuel prices and pushing people into fuel poverty.

OUR DEMAND IS SIMPLE – DON’T FRACK WITH OUR CASH!

Heating our homes shouldn’t cost the earth. Centrica, who own British Gas – have pumped over £100 million into the fracking industry over the past few years, investing in a dangerous energy source that the British public do not want.

At the same time, their subsidiary British Gas upped the price of their standard variable tariff AGAIN this year – up by £119. At a time when thousands of people die each year from cold homes and an inability to heat their homes, when the urgency of moving away from fossil fuels could not be clearer, when renewables are cheaper than ever before… our demand to Centrica & British Gas is simple – Don’t Frack with our Cash.

CENTRICA? FRACKING? WHAT?

Centrica are a multinational company that are most known to UK residents for their subsidiary – British Gas. But they also invest a large amount of money into Cuadrilla – the only company with an active fracking operation in the UK.

Last year, while British Gas upped their prices by 5.5%, Centrica pumped nearly $16m into Cuadrilla in the desperate hope to keep a flailing fracking industry afloat.

When huge corporations like Centrica fund fracking, they’re not just content with fuelling climate breakdown, they’re backing a fuel source that keeps energy bills high and means more people go cold or don’t eat.

This is demonstrated by the continued price hikes seen by British Gas customers over the past few years. On 1st April this year, the standard tariff rose again by £119, no small amount for the 3 million customers of British Gas, and a move that will do nothing to help the 2.5 million people in Britain living in fuel poverty.

Join us on the 13th May from 11:30 AM to oppose climate breakdown and fuel poverty, and to create a space where we can build a movement to meet the growing demand for democratic community-owned renewable energy.

More info and signup at the Facebook Event Page

Cold homes, fuel poverty, climate change, millions of homes in debt to their energy supplier, huge profits for the Big Six… the energy system isn’t working.
Another energy system is possible! Get behind the Fuel Poverty Action Energy Bill of Rights
 Posted by at 22:43
May 092019
 

A group of grassroots campaigners have taken fellow disabled activists on a tour of the sites of some of their most successful protests, without them needing to leave their own homes.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) worked with German film-maker and artist Hito Steyerl on its Power Tour, which saw DPAC activists revisit the sites of six of their best-known Westminster direct actions.

Four disabled people who were unable to leave their homes to be there in person were able instead to immerse themselves in the event through “proxies” who took part in the tour and communicated with them directly and acted as their eyes and ears, using bespoke equipment and software.

The tour revisited DPAC protests such as the Circus Maximarse action in March 2015 (which targeted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contractor Maximus in its first week as the new provider of the work capability assessment), last year’s universal credit “crime scene” protest, DPAC’s occupation of DWP’s Caxton House headquarters in 2012, its direct action protests inside parliament, and the 2014 occupation of the grounds of Westminster Abbey in protest at government plans to close the Independent Living Fund.

The also recreated the time activists hung underwear from a washing-line outside DWP’s headquarters as a reminder of how former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith had claimed for new underpants on parliamentary expenses.

DPAC hopes the experiment is just the latest step in the development of new technology that will allow disabled people to participate in protests remotely, if they cannot attend in person because of impairment-related reasons or a lack of support.

Two activists working with DPAC – who have been praised for their work – had designed a bespoke harness that holds a mobile phone on the chest of the proxy, so it is stable as they move around.

They have also developed software that shows a video link with the protesters, and subtitles, and which will eventually have even more advanced accessibility options.

Bob, one of the disabled people who took part remotely, said: “As someone who has helped to organise DPAC protests but has never been able to take part, being able to take part in the Power Tour was very emotional for me.

“This imaginative use of assistive technology will make it possible for more disabled people to take part in DPAC’s activities and that can only be a good thing.”

Another, Martha, said it had been “so, so lovely, thoughtful and edifying and empowering” to be included.

She said: “I look forward to more accessibility and inclusion in the future.

“It really helped me as I am disabled and have been at the receiving end of the debilitating welfare reforms… and understand what it’s been like for many like myself.”

She said her involvement meant she felt “less isolated and that I had a voice at a time when I am unable to travel and be as mobile as I would like to be.

“It felt like a burden had been lifted off me and I felt less frustrated because of the efficient, and concise, to-the-point subtitles, as I am hard of hearing.”

Marion Michell, another remote participant and an artist herself, said she had been “thrilled” to be involved from her bed.

She said: “Disabled access (to events, conferences, readings, yes, and protests too) tends to focus on those who are physically able to be in the world – remote participation for people who are housebound is rarely considered, as if we didn’t count, had nothing to contribute.

“This was a good test run, even if I had to sign off early.”

Although Michell said there were some technical problems that will need to be resolved, she said the idea of pairing a remote participant with a proxy at the event itself was “inspired”.

She said: “The personal connection made me feel more involved, not just a passive observer.

“It was great to be on the road! I want remote participation to become a default access feature. We are here!”

Paula Peters, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Going back to the sites where DPAC had its most famous actions was thought-provoking, emotional but also invigorating, seeing the participants’ feelings as we explained each action and why we mounted the campaigns we have in nine years.

“From the occupation of DWP, the washing-line of IDS underpants, the occupation of Westminster Abbey and parliament and the current fight against universal credit, it’s important to highlight the victories we had against the government, but it’s important now more than ever that we give disabled people hope and that we continue the fight for human rights and social justice.

“DPAC has an important part to play in that.”

DPAC is now looking for disabled volunteers to help develop the technology by testing it from their homes.

DPAC’s Power Tour of Westminster was carried out as part of Steyerl’s Actual Reality OS, a digital tool – hosted by London’s Serpentine Gallery – which aims to provide a visual representation of data and personal testimony concerned with power and inequality in the areas surrounding the Serpentine.

The Power Walks part of Steyerl’s project highlighted issues such as social housing and low-wage work, with DPAC’s event one of four guided walks and tours, and another led by a former artist-in-residence for Grenfell Tower that uncovered the histories of resistance and reproductive labour in north Kensington.

Steyerl worked with grassroots groups including DPAC to describe “the hidden and not so hidden inequalities from the point of view of those most affected”.

9 May 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:28
May 092019
 

Caxton House cover-up: DWP hid benefit deaths papers from WCA review team

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted failing to send its own independent reviewer documents that ministers knew would have linked their fitness for work test with the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

Following intervention from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), DWP has finally admitted that two letters written by coroners, and a series of secret “peer reviews” into the deaths of claimants, were hidden from the team set up to review the work capability assessment (WCA).

It is the strongest evidence yet of the need for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the government’s social security reforms, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct in public office by ministers and senior civil servants to be passed to the police.

The need for an inquiry and for evidence of misconduct to be handed to police are two of the key demands from the Justice for Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition.

Disability News Service (DNS) has been trying since April 2018 to use freedom of information laws to find out if DWP passed the documents to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert ministers hired to review the test in 2013 and 2014.

Litchfield carried out the fourth and fifth reviews of the WCA but has refused to say if he was shown the two coroners’ letters and the peer reviews.

Litchfield, who was recognised by the prime minister with a CBE in last June’s birthday honours, published his two reviews in December 2013 and November 2014, but neither of his reports mentioned the documents, which all link the WCA with the deaths of claimants.

DWP has previously claimed in a freedom of information response that it holds no information in its records to show whether the documents were passed to Litchfield while he was reviewing the WCA.

Following that claim, DNS lodged a complaint with ICO about DWP’s refusal to state definitively whether it passed the documents to Litchfield’s team of civil servants.

But ICO has now given DNS a summary of its discussions with DWP, which prove that neither the peer reviews nor the coroners’ letters were sent to Litchfield.

A senior ICO case officer said DWP had contacted those members of Litchfield’s team who were still working for the department and asked them to conduct searches of electronic and paper records.

The ICO case officer said: “Consultation with the ex-review team elicited statements that no such information was received from DWP nor were any physical files sent to stores.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, declined to comment on the new evidence this week.

But Stephen Lloyd, the independent MP for Eastbourne, has become the first MP to openly speak out on the need for a criminal investigation since the Jodey Whiting petition was launched in March.

After being shown the evidence by DNS, he said: “It is clear that there is a public demand to ensure the government and the DWP do not sweep this under the carpet.

I support the petition and I also support [its] objective that, if there is evidence of criminal misconduct or cover-ups by civil servants or ministers, necessary criminal proceedings should be brought forward, including in the Litchfield case.

The other question for me is: was there a cover-up by Caxton House, DWP’s HQ? If so, it is only right that there is a police investigation.”

Since DNS revealed the existence of the documents in the years after Litchfield’s final report was published, concerns have grown that DWP and some of its ministers deliberately covered-up evidence showing the fatal impact of the assessment on disabled people.

The ICO response is now the strongest evidence so far of a deliberate cover-up by DWP, aimed at ensuring that its independent reviewer was not shown evidence linking the WCA with the deaths of claimants.

The coroners’ letters followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013, and were sent to DWP in the spring of 2010 and early 2014, each warning of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.

Peer reviews – now known as internal process reviews – must be carried out by DWP civil servants into every death “where suicide is associated with DWP activity”, as well as when other deaths and serious and complex cases have been linked to DWP activity.

DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.

One of the aims of a peer review is to “determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved”, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not have been shown to Litchfield, whose job it was to review how the WCA was working.

But neither of Litchfield’s reviews mentioned either the peer reviews or the coroners’ letters, although the second coroner’s letter was not written until he had begun work on his second review.

Professor Malcolm Harrington, who carried out the first three WCA reviews in 2010, 2011 and 2012, has told DNS he believes he was shown neither the first coroner’s letter (the second letter had not been written by the time he completed his third review) nor any WCA-related peer reviews.

DWP had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).

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

9 May 2019

 

 

DWP confirms single assessment plans, despite Tomlinson confusion

The government has confirmed that it is pushing ahead with plans to test how it might be able to merge two disability benefit assessments into one, despite comments from a minister that appeared to suggest that no such plans were being discussed.

The plans were originally sketched out by work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd at a high-profile speech in April.

Rudd had said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) would test introducing just one assessment to decide eligibility for both employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP).

She said in her speech: “We will therefore explore how a single assessment could improve the experience of those who apply for PIP and ESA/universal credit at the same time.”

Last week, these DWP plans were confirmed by the Tory peer Baroness Buscombe, who had been asked if the government had “opened consultation on merging PIP and ESA assessments”.

Responding on 29 April to the disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, she said DWP was already working on the new test, and that ministers were looking for ways to address concerns about “the feeling of duplication across the current assessment processes”.

She said: “By testing the feasibility of a single assessment for ESA/universal credit (UC) and PIP we can seek to understand if it will improve the assessment process for our customers, and ensure that they still get the right decision.”

But her answer came just five days after the minister for disabled people, Justin Tomlinson, appeared to tell fellow MPs, during a debate to mark 10 years of the work capability assessment (WCA), that there had been “a bit of confusion” about the government’s plans and that there would not be a single assessment after all.

He said: “The view was that it ultimately would be a panacea whereby people would go for one single assessment for PIP and for the work capability assessment.”

Instead, he said, for the “very few people” who apply for both benefits at the same time, the government’s plans would merely see those people having “both of the assessments on the same day instead of having to come in on the Monday and then again on the Wednesday”.

But DWP has now made it clear to Disability News Service that testing of a single assessment will be going ahead.

A DWP spokesperson said: “The minister [Justin Tomlinson] was referring to the integrated service for PIP and work capability assessments, which will be introduced from 2021.

The service will reduce the need to submit information multiple times, and some people may be able to have both their assessments on the same day.

This is not about creating a single assessment. Under the integrated service, customers will still attend separate assessments for ESA/UC and PIP.”

But she added: “Separately, we are undertaking a small-scale test to explore the feasibility of a single assessment for PIP and [ESA/UC] for the small number of people who are applying for both benefits at the same time.”

Many disabled campaigners have warned against merging the assessments for ESA and PIP into one single assessment.

One disabled activist, Lisa Egan, has launched a parliamentary petition – which has nearly 7,000 signatures – calling on ministers to abandon their plans for a joint assessment because PIP and ESA are “different benefits with different purposes” and “have very different eligibility criteria”.

Her petition says: “Merging assessments would cause huge harm, especially for PIP claimants in work or planning to move into work.”

She told Disability News Service: “At the moment, people who are in receipt of both benefits have the slight safety net of still receiving one benefit if they have the other one taken at reassessment and have to wait months for an appeal to get it back.

If both get taken at the same time, that would be an incredibly difficult situation to survive.

If our social safety net was functioning safely, this might not be such a dangerous proposal.

But our social security is not secure, and this plan could cost a lot of lives.

You would have thought they’d learned from universal credit that merging unrelated benefits doesn’t work.”

9 May 2019

More than £100 million in public funding… and no accessible showers

A train company that has received more than £100 million in public subsidies to pay for new carriages for a sleeper service from Scotland to London has failed to provide any accessible on-board showers, even though it is providing such facilities for non-disabled people.

The Scottish government contributed £60 million towards the replacement of the Caledonian Sleeper fleet, while the UK government has provided another £50 million.

Caledonian Sleeper has put the cost of the new fleet at £150 million, while the Scottish government – through its transport agency Transport Scotland – claims it cost £120 million.

But Caledonian Sleeper, which is run by the outsourcing company Serco, has confirmed that while the new fleet includes cabins with ensuite showers and toilets, none of the wheelchair-accessible cabins have such facilities.

And although the carriages include accessible toilets, none of them offer accessible showers either.

This means that any wheelchair-user who wants to take a shower is likely to have to do so in a train station instead.

The new service launched last week between London Euston and Glasgow Central or Edinburgh Waverley, and will be followed later this year with a route between London and Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William.

Accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley said the failure to provide accessible showers made him “very angry and very sad”.

He said he believed the use of public money on the project meant the UK and Scottish government were breaching their public sector equality duty (PSED) under the Equality Act.

He said: “It strikes me that accessible showers would be considerably more important for disabled people than for non-disabled.

It is a great shame that the vehicles don’t include accessible showers, and retrofitting them seems unlikely.

Perhaps the vehicles will be in use for 40 years, like the old sleepers were.”

The carriages themselves probably meet the technical requirements for rail accessibility, so the company itself is unlikely to be guilty of discrimination under the act, said Paulley.

But he added: “I don’t see how investing £110 million of tax-payers’ money in stock that has facilities for non-disabled people to have showers but not disabled people meets the requirements of the public bodies involved under the PSED.”

Paulley has tried to discover what discussions took place about including accessible showers through a freedom of information request.

He told the Scottish government: “Many disabled people’s impairments, including mine, mean that they need showers more than non-disabled people.

The same impairments mean that it is much more effort to use showers in stations – getting dressed and undressed, and dried and all the rest of it, is a massive effort, logistically and otherwise.

Going direct from bed to a shower then back onto the bed to get dried and undressed cuts out so much of this.”

But he was told the Scottish government holds no information on discussions about whether accessible showers could be installed.

Among other campaigners who have raised concerns about the lack of accessible showers is Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who said it meant disabled people did not have the same choices as non-disabled people.

And “Jelly Head”, who tweets at @LordOrk, said: “Let’s not forget these new trains will be in service for decades so consequently disabled people will be disadvantaged long into the future which simply isn’t morally reasonable or acceptable.”

Even though the UK government contributed £50 million towards the project, the Department for Transport has refused to answer questions about the lack of accessible showers or its own PSED legal duties.

Transport Scotland has refused to say whether it ever considered the need for accessible showers or had any discussions with Caledonian Sleeper about the possibility, despite investing £60 million into the programme.

It said the decision for leasing and ordering the trains “rests wholly with Serco” but refused – despite repeated requests from Disability News Service – to say whether it ever discussed the issue of accessible showers.

A Transport Scotland spokesperson added: “All accessible rooms are located directly beside the accessible toilets. 

We understand the option to include accessible showers was declined based on safety grounds but we do not hold the details.”

She added: “We don’t believe that Transport Scotland is in a breach of its public sector equality duty.”

A spokesperson for Serco Caledonian Sleeper said the company had not been able to “find a safe or acceptable way” to provide accessible showers on board the train.

Magnus Conn, new trains programme director for Serco Caledonian Sleeper, claimed the company had “worked extensively with accessibility experts to investigate all options and develop an offering that goes above and beyond while complying with relevant legislation” and had “sought to ensure the best experience possible for disabled users”.

The price of an accessible room on the service includes the use of accessible showers at the company’s own first class lounges at Dundee, Inverness, Fort William, Leuchars, Perth and Stirling, and to shower facilities run by other rail providers at London Euston, Glasgow Central, Edinburgh Waverley and Aberdeen.

9 May 2019

 

 

Visitors to new wing ‘will feel the power of the disability protest movement’

A new archive and learning zone dedicated to the disability arts movement is set to inspire a new generation of young people to fight for their rights.

The National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA) facility was launched last week at the High Wycombe campus of Buckinghamshire New University, and features more than 3,500 pieces of artwork, most of which is stored in digital or physical form in the archive.

It is the first study space to be dedicated to learning about the disability arts movement, and it includes both an archive repository and the NDACA learning wing, which features original pieces from the disability arts movement.

The idea behind the learning zone was to create a physical experience that recreates what it was like to be involved in the early years of the disability arts movement in the 1980s and 1990s.

The hope is that it will encourage both disabled and non-disabled people to learn more about the movement’s contribution to the fight for rights and to changing how disabled people are viewed by society.

So there are artefacts such as Tony Heaton’s Shaken Not Stirred sculpture, which has been recreated using the original charity collection cans, and which played a key part in the 1992 Block Telethon protest against ITV’s charity Telethon and its “patronizing position of disabled people as pitiful receivers of charity”.

There are photographs and newspaper cuttings from the direct action protests of the Campaign for Accessible Transport, which helped lead to the first Disability Discrimination Act in 1995.

There are also copies of every edition of Disability Arts in London (DAIL) magazine, which was published by London Disability Arts Forum – set up in 1986 to provide a cultural wing of the disabled people’s movement – and a library of books and other literature.

And visitors can take away free tee-shirts with slogans from the disabled people’s movement, such as Piss On Pity and Proud Angry Strong, and Tear Down The Walls and Not Dead Yet fridge magnets.

There are also hydraulic desks for wheelchair-users; a chill-out room, featuring NDACA cushions; and tactile versions of Heaton’s Shaken Not Stirred and Great Britain from a Wheelchair sculptures.

The archive room includes almost all of Tanya Raabe-Webber’s Who’s WhO collection of portraits of leading disabled figures, tee-shirts donated by activists who took part in disability rights protests, and boxes and boxes of other artefacts, such as magazines, postcards and photographs.

The opening of the learning zone and archive room is just the latest stage in a project that stretches back more than 30 years to conversations between Heaton, NDACA’s founder, and fellow disabled artist Allan Sutherland about the need for a collection and archive that would capture the history of the disability arts movement and ensure that key artefacts were not lost for ever.

A 364-page timeline of the disability arts movement, written by Sutherland, will soon be added to the NDACA website and will be available to download, while there will also be a physical copy of it in the NDACA learning zone.

The close links between the disability arts movement and the wider disabled people’s movement are clear throughout the NDACA wing.

There are exhibits such as a framed copy of Vic Finkelstein’s Fundamental Principles of Disability, and a black and white photograph featuring many of the movements’ leading figures, such as Barbara Lisicki, Colin Barnes, Alan Holdsworth, Vic Finkelstein, Sutherland and Heaton, Mike Oliver, Anne Rae, David Hevey, and Adam Reynolds.

Students and staff at the university will use the facilities for their own learning and teaching, while postgraduate students from other universities are already visiting the collection.

Members of the public will also be able to visit the NDACA learning zone by booking in advance, and can make appointments through the NDACA website.

There are also plans for artefacts from the archive, including some of Raabe’s portraits, to tour the country and hopefully be exhibited internationally.

Hevey, the NDACA project and creative director and chief executive of Shape Arts, which is delivering the project – whose photography features in the archive – said the message of the learning zone was “simple but not simplistic” and about the removal of barriers in society.

The NDACA wing is, he said, “full of character” and “a space in which you can feel the power of the disability protest movement”.

The disability arts movement helped to make disabled people more visible in society, he said, and helped usher in the Disability Discrimination Act in 1995.

He said: “It challenged society, achieved great social change and inspired a remarkable body of creative work.”

Hevey, probably best known for producing and directing BBC’s 1997 ground-breaking history series The Disabled Century, said the success of the disability arts movement was “clearly a message to contemporary disabled people facing barriers and fighting for justice and fighting reactionary positions and austerity”.

He said: “We want people to say, ‘Yes, disabled people are winners and they can change the world.’

If this helps to contribute to the fight against austerity, that’s OK by me.”

He added: “Victories are worth promoting. I think it will inspire a new generation to say, ‘If they can win, we can win.’”

Funding for the project has mainly come from the National Lottery Heritage Fund – which contributed more than £850,000 – with other funding from Arts Council England and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The NDACA project has already seen the launch of its interactive website, which allows visitors to access digital copies of some of the movement’s most significant work, read essays about significant disabled artists, and by the end of this year will also feature about 50 short films.

Heaton said: “The learning wing is the realisation of a dream I had more than 30 years ago – to collect the unique heritage, and demonstrate the power, of the disability arts movement.

One that fought barriers, helped change the law and made great culture about those struggles.”

Alex Cowan, NDACA’s archivist, has worked with significant figures in the disability arts movement over the last three years to identify “standout material” from their personal collections.

He said: “I am proud to have been able to participate in a cultural movement that has shaped British art, society and politics and to have played my part in highlighting disabled people’s long struggle for individual and collective recognition.”

The university’s link with NDACA originally came through the music theatre company Signdance Collective, which was previously the university’s resident theatre company.

The university has other close links with the creative and cultural industries, and three of its film and television production students have worked voluntarily as runners on some of the short films produced as part of the NDACA project.

Professor Nick Braisby, the university’s vice-chancellor, said: “We are proud to host the NDACA wing, which represents the significant importance of the disability arts movement and all that it achieved.

We look forward to welcoming researchers to the university, and giving our students and staff access to the archive which will inform our curriculum and teaching across our course portfolio.”

Stuart Hobley, head of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, London, said NDACA was “a major milestone for disability heritage”, with its “stories of ordinary people who led extraordinary lives and changed the UK’s arts and political landscape”.

He said: “A core aim of all National Lottery funded projects is to make heritage accessible to as many people as possible and this archive and learning wing is a fantastic example of how this can be achieved.”

9 May 2019

 

 

UN’s torture committee probes UK on ‘grim and unacceptable truths’

A UN body has been questioning the UK government this week on the “grim and unacceptable truth” that disabled people and other groups are still being subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment – and even torture – in taxpayer-funded services.

The UK and devolved governments have been scrutinised for two days by the UN’s committee against torture (UNCAT) over their record on torture and ill-treatment in the UK and abroad.

Among the evidence being considered by UNCAT is a report by a coalition of civil society groups and experts, including Disability Rights UK and the National Survivor User Network (NSUN), while NSUN has also submitted its own separate evidence.

In its own submission, NSUN tells the committee of the “destitution” and “inhuman and degrading treatment” caused by the government’s austerity policies, and the “disproportionate and often devastating impact” of those measures on people with mental distress.

NSUN also calls on the UK government to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

And it says the government must invest in services and resources so as to make progress in stopping detentions and forced treatment, particularly by investing in alternative and user-led services, in order to end the “inhumane approach” of current mental health law and the failings of the Mental Health Act (MHA).

In a short oral submission – she and others were given just one minute 10 seconds each to deliver their presentations – NSUN’s Dorothy Gould told the committee in Geneva on Monday: “Following visits from the UNCRPD in 2015 and 2017 and last year’s visit from the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, there cannot be any doubt that levels of destitution in the UK amount to inhumane treatment and that people with mental health diagnoses have been disproportionately affected.”

She added: “Discrimination and hate crime against us are also prevalent, intersectional crime still more so.

It is hard, too, to see current mental health legislation in the UK as anything other than inhumane.

Under this legislation, the use of detention in psychiatric institutions and forced treatment is misinterpreted as care.

These measures are employed at the very times when we are most vulnerable and despite serious challenges to the scientific basis for psychiatric diagnoses and medication.

We are also detained on the basis of potential risks to others, although no-one else is detained on this basis.”

The following day, UNCAT ‎members posed detailed questions to the UK delegation, while yesterday (Wednesday) there were further questions from the committee and responses from government representatives.

Committee members will now consider the evidence they have received before preparing their concluding observations on the UK’s progress in implementing the convention.

Among that evidence is the civil society coalition report, which was compiled by the international human rights organisation REDRESS and was targeted at the UK and Welsh governments, and which raised several key concerns about the treatment of disabled people.

Among them is the rise of more than a third in the number of detentions under MHA since 2010, the disproportionate use of MHA on black and minority ethnic groups, and the number of people with learning difficulties and autistic people detained in long-stay hospitals, as well as the use of tasers in mental health settings.

It also raises concerns about the use of restraint and seclusion on disabled children in schools, including autistic pupils, and calls on the UK to abolish all methods of restraint against children for disciplinary purposes in all institutional settings, including special schools, and to ensure it is used against children only to prevent harm to the child or others and only as a last resort.

Another issue highlighted in the report is neglect and ill-treatment in care homes, and the need for local authorities to have enough funds “to sufficiently investigate and address allegations of abuse”.

The REDRESS report also highlights the level of unreported disability hate crime, and the fall in disability hate crime prosecutions, as well as the failure to make reasonable adjustments for disabled prisoners, including those who are deaf.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of DR UK, said: “It’s hard to believe that some disabled people are subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment in services funded by the taxpayer, yet that is the grim and unacceptable truth.

Rigorous training for health and social care staff in the [UN disability convention], and relevant UK legislation including the Mental Capacity Act, would go some way to improving the way disabled people are treated.

It would also help change a culture which persists in providing so-called care services which are woefully inadequate, and does little to help support disabled people to live independently.”

In its own report to UNCAT, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – which funded REDRESS’s report – calls for action in areas such as the criteria for detaining people under MHA, the use of restraint, the impact of the UK government’s legal aid reforms on access to justice, and hate crime.

It also calls on the UK and Welsh governments to monitor the impact of cuts to adult social care on older and disabled people, including their right to live independently, and calls on them to develop plans to “progressively close gaps in meeting needs”.

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “Everyone has the right to be free from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. That is an absolute right.

Failing to adequately protect people from such dangerous and harmful acts is not only a moral failure but breaches our existing international legal obligations.

Improving Britain’s record on preventing ill-treatment in our own country is essential if we want to maintain our long-held reputation as a champion of equality and human rights globally.”

The 10 independent experts who sit on UNCAT are responsible for monitoring how countries including the UK are implementing the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In his opening statement to the committee this week (PDF), the head of the UK government delegation, Paul Candler, said the UK government “consistently and unreservedly condemns torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and raises concerns about it “wherever and whenever it occurs”.

He said: “The UK has a longstanding tradition of ensuring rights and liberties are protected domestically, and of fulfilling our international human rights obligations, including through dialogues such as this one.”

He said that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) would not change its commitment to “protect and respect human rights and liberties”, and he said it had no plans to repeal or reform the Human Rights Act after the UK leaves the EU, and that it had “reaffirmed its commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights”.

9 May 2019

 

 

Action on Hearing Loss defends holding comedy fundraiser in inaccessible venue

A disability charity has refused to apologise for holding a fundraising comedy night in an inaccessible London venue.

Action on Hearing Loss (formerly known as RNID) was raising money as part of its Deaf Awareness Week with an evening of stand-up at The Comedy Store in London.

Performers included Samantha Baines, Angela Barnes, Eshaan Akbar, Ed Gamble, Russell Howard and John Bishop, three of whom have hearing loss themselves.

But the venue chosen by the charity is not accessible to many disabled people, with The Comedy Store warning on its website that it only has a “chair lift” which “cannot bear the weight of a person in a wheelchair”.

This means that any wheelchair-user “must be able to leave their wheelchair, descend via the chairlift, then retake their wheelchair once at the bottom of the stairs”, so “large electric wheelchairs are unable to gain access” to the auditorium.

Alan Benson, a disabled campaigner and activist from London, said: “Funding is a challenge for everyone so events like this are very important, but it’s vital that we get them right.

In a society that routinely discriminates against disabled people we must make sure that we support each other and run fully inclusive events.

I know that those with hearing impairments routinely face barriers to participation so I would have hoped for better.”

Benson, who uses an electric wheelchair himself, added: “London has many great accessible venues so there is no excuse not to use them.

By using venues like The Comedy Store, we validate their inadequate provision.

To justify the event by saying it was accessible to some disabled people is simply not good enough.”

When questioned about the inaccessible venue, Action on Hearing Loss (AHL) refused to apologise or say why the event was held in a venue which was not accessible for many wheelchair-users.

It also refused to say what kind of message that decision sent to wheelchair-users with high support needs, and whether it suggested that raising money and “awareness” of AHL’s work was more important than including people who use electric wheelchairs.

But a spokesperson said in a statement: “At the launch of Deaf Awareness Week, it was important that the charity gave people with deafness and hearing loss the opportunity to attend an iconic comedy venue that has played host to some of the most famous performers in the world.

To achieve this, the show was supported by BSL interpreters, live subtitling and a hearing loop.

But it was not just those with deafness and hearing loss who came to the show, people with various disabilities were also in attendance, including those using wheelchairs.

We are committed to breaking down the barriers that prevent inclusivity for all and we will continue to work with venues to help improve their accessibility.”

9 May 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:27
May 072019
 

Call for collaboration – to go out to disabled people’s organizations/networks

Technology often promises to make life easier, but what will the future look like for disabled people with complex care needs? What about when services are managed and monitored using algorithms, and robotic systems start to replace care workers? What if these tools were made to enable rationing and automation of care services? Alternatively, what if these technologies and services were designed by and for disabled people to promote Independent Living and meet their actual social care needs?

A group at Loughborough University wants to ask these kinds of questions and is looking for disabled technology users to collaborate on starting a research project.

If you are interested in getting involved, let us know how to get in touch with you:

Saul Albert

s.b.albert@lboro.ac.uk

07941255210

01509228876

Skype:saulalbert

 Posted by at 23:01
May 072019
 

Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance Logo

One Day Conference on UK Disability and Development Cooperation for Disabled People and Representatives of Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs)

Saturday 1st June 2019

Student Central, University of London Union, Malet St, London, WC1E 7HY

11am – 4pm

Purpose

To discuss:

    • DFID Disability Inclusion strategy – challenges and opportunities for DPOs – members of DfID staff will be presenting their strategy followed by workshops
    • Role of DPOs in international development – history and context (UNCPRD Art 32)
    • International cooperation with DPOs – barriers and facilitators
    • Sharing learning and ideas on how to facilitate international cooperation between UK based DPOs and DPOs in developing countries

To Decide:

  • How UK DPO’s should be represented internationally
  • What structure do we need?
  • Representatives to United Nations CoSP and Relaunch of Commonwealth Disabled People’s Forum
  • Representation to European Disability Forum

 

To book your free place: https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/training-and-support/powerup/view/one-day-conference-on-uk-disability-and-international-development/

For more information contact: info@rofa.org.uk

Participation is free for disabled people/DPOs and travel expenses will be covered by DfID/ROFA

 Posted by at 22:58
May 042019
 

DPAC North East London Logo

Are you a disabled person or ally living anywhere in North or East London?

Do you want to get involved in the campaign to defend our rights and build a more inclusive society?

If this sounds like you – Then join our open meeting to launch

North & East London DPAC

Thursday 30th May

Islington Town Hall

7PM

DPAC – Disabled People Against Cuts is a user-led campaign network of disabled people who have over the last decade been at the centre of the anti – austerity movement.

DPAC engages in lobbying, media campaigns & non-violent direct action.

North & East London DPAC will be a coalition of local groups and people from Boroughs in each of these regions of London

This meeting is intended to hear from disabled people from each borough, what the priority issues are in their areas, & how we can support each other to take action around these issues.

You don’t need to have any special skills or experience of campaigning to take part. You don’t need to be part of an existing network or group.

North & East London DPAC would like to be as inclusive and accessible as is possible. Please contact us by email on

nelondondpac@gmail.com

If you have any access requirements

This is an open meeting for all disabled people and allies who want to take collective action.

Islington Town Hall is wheelchair accessible including platform lifts and accessible toilets

Nearest step free station is Kings Cross. If you are coming from the north, Canonbury station is step free. A 30 bus from either station will take you directly to Islington Town Hall.

Buses: 19, 4, 30, 43

 Posted by at 21:29
May 022019
 

Nursing body failed to deal fairly with PIP assessment complaints, says regulator

A regulator has found widespread mishandling by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) of complaints it has received about the way nurses working for government contractors have carried out disability benefit assessments.

In an annual review of the NMC, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) found that nearly every one of the 28 complaint cases it examined in detail showed potential for undermining public confidence in its work.

It said NMC’s failure to deal fairly with complaints about nurses carrying out personal independence payment (PIP) assessments had “significant implications” for the system that decides whether nurses are “fit to practise”.

And it said these failings had had “a significant impact on the fairness, transparency and focus on public protection” of NMC’s fitness to practise system.

NMC had told the investigators that only two of 83 complaints about nurses carrying out PIP assessments for government contractors Capita and Atos had led to a full investigation in 2017-18.

After receiving those figures, PSA decided to carry out its own audit of PIP assessment complaints made to NMC, looking at one-third of the 83 cases.

It reviewed 28 of them and found that 26 had been closed at the initial screening stage, while another was closed by the case examiners with no further action, and one led to a published warning*.

PSA found a string of failings by NMC, including a refusal to consider all the concerns raised by complainants.

It also found that NMC relied on the findings of Atos and Capita to justify closing cases about their own employees, and failed to consider crucial documentary evidence, often ignoring the evidence of the person who had lodged the complaint, and failing to ask them for further information.

NMC also told some complainants that the role of PIP assessor was not relevant to the nurse’s fitness to practice, unless it involved dishonesty.

PSA, which oversees the UK’s nine health and care professional regulatory organisations, concluded that NMC’s failure in at least two cases “might not be sufficient to protect the public”, while it was unable to reach a conclusion on public protection in another nine cases.

And it found that the handling of 24 of the 28 cases “might undermine confidence” in NMC.

PSA acted after hearing concerns from disabled people that NMC was dismissing concerns about nurses, even when claimants were saying there were witnesses to the nurse’s actions or they had taken a recording of their face-to-face PIP assessment.

But PSA also criticised NMC’s failure to tell disabled people who had raised concerns about their assessments that they should ask the Department for Work and Pensions for a mandatory reconsideration of the decision made on their PIP claim.

And it said that NMC often failed to tell those who had made complaints to come back to PSA if any concerns about a nurse’s fitness to practise were identified by DWP after it had been asked to look again at their case.

The PIP failings contributed to NMC failing on two of the standards for “good regulation for fitness to practise”.

Andrea Sutcliffe, NMC’s chief executive, said in a statement: “I’m sorry that our approach to a small number of PIP related cases fell short of what is expected.

Our failure to fully address the concerns of some people making complaints and the lack of clarity in our decision making was not good enough.  

Since 2018 we have taken action. This includes additional training for those making and communicating case decisions, as well as a new quality assurance approach to the way we initially review cases.

We are committed to treating everyone who brings concerns to us with dignity and respect and in 2018 established the Public Support Service to strengthen our support for members of the public.

I do not believe that the NMC set out to discriminate against disabled people. While we accept we did not handle some of these cases as well as we could have done, our values are focused on fairness.

Prior to the PSA’s report, we had reviewed the cases in detail and we will now consider the final report and decide whether any further regulatory action is required.”

PSA said it recognised that the NMC “accepts the issues of concern that we have identified and is working to address them” and added: “We support its work and will monitor progress.”

A PSA spokesperson said a copy of the report would be passed to DWP “as a courtesy, as they are mentioned a number of times within the report”, while it would also be shared with the Department of Health and Social Care.

He said he was unable to provide any details about the cases PSA audited.

And he said he could not say whether PSA would also now look at how NMC has dealt with complaints about nurses who have carried out work capability assessments (WCAs), and whether it would take a similarly detailed look at how the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) has dealt with complaints about PIP assessments and WCAs.

Last year, PSA concluded in an annual review of HCPC that there were “issues of concern” with the way it dealt with complaints about physiotherapists and paramedics carrying out PIP assessments.

PSA had agreed to act after being contacted in 2017 by disabled activist Mark Lucas, who had twice appealed successfully against the results of what he believed were dishonest PIP assessments. 

PSA said last year that HCPC was “undertaking an action plan” to address the concerns it had raised about its fitness to practise processes, and that it would probably review further HCPC cases in detail over the next couple of years.

Disability News Service (DNS) spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty at the heart of the PIP assessment system, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of PIP.

It continues to receive such reports today, nearly two-and-a-half years after the investigation began.

*A published warning is handed out if there is a “real possibility” that NMC’s fitness to practise committee would find a nurse’s fitness to practise impaired but there is “no current need to restrict their practice because [they have] accepted the regulatory concern, shown insight, and… put any problems in their practice right through remediation, where relevant”

2 May 2019

 

DWP and assessors fail to refer claimants at risk of harm to social services, research finds

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its private sector contractors have been failing for years to alert local authorities to concerns about benefit claimants whose safety was at risk, “shocking” new research has shown.

Years of previous research have shown how government social security reforms have often caused serious harm to disabled people claiming benefits, or even led to their deaths.

But only 25 of 80 council social services departments across England, Scotland and Wales said they had received a single safeguarding alert from DWP over the last three years, freedom of information (FoI) responses have shown.

The record of DWP’s three private sector outsourcing companies was even worse, with Maximus – which carries out work capability assessments (WCAs) on behalf of the department – failing to make a single safeguarding referral to any of the 80 social services departments.

Atos and Capita – which both assess claimants for person independence payment (PIP) – made just two referrals each over three years.

The FoI requests were submitted by disabled campaigner and former safeguarding expert Mike Owen, who has become increasingly concerned about the failure of staff working for DWP and its contractors to alert local social services departments when a benefit claimant’s safety is at risk.

He said he was “deeply shocked” by the figures, which showed “a massive failure” by DWP to support people in vulnerable situations.

Owen said the figures showed yet again the need for an independent inquiry into links between DWP and the deaths of claimants, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to the police, as called for by the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*.

He said: “My research shows the clear need for an inquiry to take place due to the levels of which both the Department for Work and Pensions and its outsourced private assessment providers have ignored serious concerns raised by the claimants and medical professionals about their health and wellbeing.”

He highlighted the case of Stephen Smith, who died last week, months after he was found fit for work by DWP, despite being in hospital with such severe health problems that his weight had fallen to six stone.

The Liverpool Echo revealed this week that DWP had ignored two separate doctors’ letters about Smith’s serious health problems.

Owen decided to carry out his research mainly because of the injustice he faced when disclosing to DWP that he was a survivor of child sexual exploitation and was experiencing significant mental health issues because of that trauma.

He said he had been told by DWP that “sensitive” issues like his are not passed on to assessment providers, which he said can mean that the companies are not aware of the need to make certain adjustments to ensure their safety.

One DWP PIP manager even told him: “Safeguarding is not my responsibility.”

But DWP’s own internal guidance says that if a claimant who is at greater than normal risk of abuse or neglect “faces clear and significant risks to their welfare or safety”, such as the risk of injury, ill-treatment, abuse, neglect or exploitation, staff should “take any reasonable steps which [they] feel are necessary in order to address these risks… without any undue delay”.

The guidance adds: “You should volunteer information which is directly relevant to the issue of concern to Social Services, Social Work Department in Scotland or the police, as appropriate, without the customer’s or individual’s consent.”

But of the 80 local authorities that sent Owen figures for the whole three-year period he requested, only 25 said they had received any referrals from DWP between January 2016 and January 2019.

In total, there were just 111 DWP referrals in three years across the 25 councils, with 17 of them being sent to one Scottish local authority – North Ayrshire – 15 to Staffordshire County Council, and 11 to Newcastle City Council.

So far, more than 50 other councils have been unable to comply with Owen’s FoI request in full or in part.

Owen’s research is just the latest evidence of the failure of government ministers to ensure the safety of benefit claimants over the last decade.

In March, the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition* was launched, calling for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings, and for the department to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.

The petition has so far secured nearly 38,000 signatures, and needs to reach 100,000 to be considered for a House of Commons debate.

In January, Disability News Service (DNS) revealed how ministers had failed to include DWP in a new cross-government plan aimed at reducing suicides, despite years of evidence linking such deaths with the disability benefits system and social security reforms.

The following month, Owen told DNS how he had been informed by a senior Maximus executive that the company did not have a safeguarding policy, nearly four years after taking on the WCA contract, although it claimed it was in the process of creating one.

In February, the Independent Case Examiner found that DWP had failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to the suicide of Jodey Whiting, a disabled woman with a long history of mental distress who had had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a WCA, and took her own life just 15 days later.

And last month, DNS revealed how DWP destroyed a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres, preventing it being released under freedom of information laws.

This week, DWP denied that Owen’s research suggested that it was failing to ensure the safety of the disabled people it assessed for disability benefits or that it needed to take urgent action to guarantee this safety.

But a DWP spokesperson admitted that the department kept no central record of how many safeguarding referrals were made, because they were “made locally by staff on a case by case basis”.

He said the department did not know how or if each council recorded its data and therefore the FoI responses could not be an accurate portrayal of when referrals were made.

He said: “We have clear guidance on making referrals to local authorities for all DWP staff dealing with claimants, to ensure vulnerable claimants get the support they need, however we cannot control how or if local authorities record these.

It would not be accurate therefore to compare responses from councils on the number of recorded referrals, to those actually made by the department.”

Atos refused to say why it had made so few safeguarding referrals to local authorities, and whether the figures suggested the company was failing to ensure the safety of the disabled people it assessed.

But an Atos spokesperson said in a statement: “We take the safety of claimants seriously and follow DWP guidance to alert their GP to any concerns we identify.”

Maximus also refused to answer the questions or say whether its failings were connected with the company’s previous failure to have a written safeguarding policy in relation to the disabled people it assessed for benefits.

A Maximus spokesperson said in a statement: “We have always trained our staff to identify safeguarding issues, and all concerns are referred to the customer’s GP or the appropriate authorities.”

Capita refused to comment.

Owen said he was shocked by these responses, and added: “It is highly inappropriate for the private assessment providers to refer safeguarding concerns to the claimants’ GPs because it could delay any safeguarding needs that need to be urgently met.”

And he said he was pleased DWP had admitted not recording safeguarding referrals centrally because that was one of the measures that needed to be introduced.

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

2 May 2019

 

No 10 access information will remain secret… because of terrorist threat

Documents that could reveal why the government has refused to remove the two iconic – and inaccessible – steps that lead to the front door of 10 Downing Street will not be released, because of a risk that the information could be useful to terrorists.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has told Disability News Service (DNS) that although some information does exist, it does not need to be released by Historic England because doing so could cause “a direct or immediate threat to the UK”.

The information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, even visited Historic England to view the documents because of their “sensitive nature”.

DNS has been trying for more than 18 months – through freedom of information (FoI) requests – to discover what discussions have taken place about the possibility of removing the steps.

Although there is step-free access at the rear of 10 Downing Street, wheelchair-users wishing to use the front door must rely on a portable ramp.

DNS has also tried to obtain information from the Cabinet Office, but it has insisted that the only relevant recorded information was in a draft memo that said that increasing the size of an internal lift had “improved accessibility”.

Despite this claim, Historic England has previously told DNS that the Cabinet Office was “rolling out a programme of improvements to the grade I listed complex to proactively address disabled access” and that an “accessibility audit is still being worked through”.

Now ICO has decided that Historic England – the government-sponsored public body responsible for “championing England’s heritage” – was right not to release relevant documents it holds about access at 10 Downing Street.

It said Historic England was correct to rely on regulation 12 (5) (a) of the Environmental Information Regulations (EIR), which provides an exemption to its usual duty to release such information for reasons relating to “international relations, defence, national security or public safety”.

An ICO senior case officer told DNS: “The withheld information does reveal a greater level of detail about No 10 than is currently publicly available and it cannot be dismissed that this information could be of use to individuals wanting to commit acts of terrorism.”

She said Denham was aware of “the importance of disability access to public buildings and the need to address poor provision” and so “accepts that there is an argument in favour of disclosure of information relating to information concerning such access to No 10 to demonstrate the actions taken for inclusive access to such a significant building”.

But Denham has decided that the public interest in ensuring the safety of No 10, and individuals there and in the surrounding area, “clearly outweighs the public interest” in releasing the information.

A government spokesperson refused to comment on the information commissioner’s ruling, but she said in a statement: “We are committed to improving access to Downing Street and have recently installed a new lift and more accessible toilets as part of work to improve facilities in this historic building.”

An Historic England spokesperson said: “We are aware that the information commissioner has agreed with our decision to withhold information relating to the accessibility audit at Number 10 Downing Street.

We will continue to work closely with Cabinet Office on the important process of improving access to this significant complex of buildings.”

2 May 2019

Hancock appears to rule out sweeping changes to social care funding system

The health and social care secretary appears to have ruled out sweeping changes to the funding system for adult social care.

Matt Hancock, giving evidence about the adult social care funding crisis to a House of Lords committee on Tuesday, told peers that he saw a “series of injustices” in the system but was “more attracted to options that build and directly improve on the system than ripping the whole thing up and starting from scratch”.

He had earlier confirmed to the Lords economic affairs committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the funding of social care in England, that the government’s green paper had been delayed yet again due to the parliamentary Brexit crisis.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) originally promised that the green paper would be published by the end of 2017, and then July last year, before delaying it to the autumn and then the end of 2018.

After missing the December 2018 deadline, it was delayed until “the earliest opportunity” in 2019, before Hancock told MPs it would be published by April.

Now that deadline has been missed as well, and Hancock said he could only promise that it was “coming in due course”.

He added: “I wish that the green paper had been published by now and we are continuing to work on it in the department because this is such an important issue and a longstanding policy problem that needs to be tackled.”

He also ruled out proposals that would change the system to one that was solely funded nationally, with no financing by local authorities, saying: “I don’t agree with that.”

And he suggested that the green paper – when it was finally published – was unlikely to include a definitive plan for how he believed adult social care funding should be reformed.

He said: “What I would like to do is bring forward a green paper that can bring together the debate, because it does have to be cross-party, and bring that debate behind a direction of travel where we can make progress.”

But he did stress to the committee that the funding crisis affected both working-age adults and children, as well as older people, pointing out – as many politicians fail to do – that about 50 per cent of local authority funding in this area is spent on working-age adult social care.

And he also said he wanted to see more funding for home-based support, rather than residential care.

He said: “I think there’s a big difference and a big opportunity to make social care better, better for the individual being cared for and better value for money, by a shift from residential to domiciliary care.

Domiciliary care is cheaper than residential care. People want to stay at home for as long as possible.”

He added: “That sort of thing is much easier to fix than the long-term ‘who’s going to pay for it?’ and that will get a mention in the green paper no doubt.”

He accepted that there was often a financial incentive for councils to place older and disabled people into residential care because it can allow the local authority to take account of a family home as a financial asset when deciding how much the person should pay towards their care, which it cannot do if they remain in their own home.

He told peers: “What we do know is that more people go into residential care than is clinically justified and that domiciliary care is on average… better as well as being better value for money.”

Hancock said that “taxpayer” funding would “inevitably be part of the solution” but that he believed it was “impossible” to put an “exact figure” on how much would be needed, and that he could not confirm that there would be an increase in taxpayer funding for the system because of the government’s forthcoming spending review.

He said the government had put an extra £10 billion into social care over the last three years, while its spending was £3.9 billion higher this year in real terms than in 2015-16, a nine per cent real terms increase.

Two years ago, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities warned the UK was “going backwards” on independent living, and called on the government to draw up a “comprehensive plan” to address the problem, and to take “urgent action” to ensure disabled people were provided with “adequate support to live independent lives”.

2 May 2019

 

 

MPs must speak out on criminal probe into DWP death links, say activists

MPs have been asked why they are failing to speak out to back calls for a police investigation into alleged criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants that may have led to the deaths of benefit claimants.

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

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

Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens – and now the SNP, although it does not accept that DWP is institutionally disablist – have all backed the petition, but no MP appears to have spoken publicly yet of the need for evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to police.

The only such comments from a politician appear to have come from Jonathan Bartley, the co-leader of the Greens, who is not an MP, but has made it clear that he believes DWP has “blood on its hands”.

Disabled activists have now questioned why MPs have been so reluctant to mention this key element of the petition, and they have called on them to speak out about the need for justice for those who have died.

Eight families of disabled people whose deaths have been linked to DWP failings have so far backed the petition, and its call for any evidence of criminal misconduct that comes from an inquiry to be passed to police.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said: “MHRN is determined that there will eventually be a criminal investigation into benefit deaths, however long we have to wait.

There is a huge amount of evidence that many deaths have been a direct result of the actions of the DWP following the policies of this government.

Are those who are implicated in these deaths above the law? Are there people in government and government departments who can do whatever harm they want with impunity?

Disabled people will fight for such an investigation; we will continue to do so even if it takes years to get one.

It seems strange and sad that MPs have not been calling for this to happen now.

Why drag this out for disabled people and the families of those who have lost their loved ones?

MHRN want MPs to act now to make this investigation happen as soon as possible. Why should we have to wait any longer for what is inevitable?”

Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “Enough MPs know about the harm and death caused by the hostile environment against disabled people perpetrated by this government, but why haven’t they joined the supporters of the Jodey Whiting petition in calling for a criminal investigation?

Disabled people will be watching for MPs to join the call for a criminal investigation, and we’ll be watching who remains silent.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “While MPs busy themselves obsessing with the ludicrous fiasco that is ‘Brexit’ we should like to remind them that sick and disabled people’s lives are being crushed under the weight of systems and policies that are driving disabled people into destitution, hunger, rent arrears, homelessness and, tragically, suicide.

This, too, requires their urgent, immediate, and undivided attention.

We think that it is unconscionable that we should be forced to jump through hoops to obtain the help and support that we have a right to expect from our elected representatives in the face of such a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Laura Stringhetti, of the WOWcampaign, said: “For the past nine years, we have heard of far too many deaths caused by the failings of the DWP.

Each of these deaths has left heartbroken families and friends behind.

Yet nothing has changed; on the contrary, with universal credit things are getting even worse.

The WOW Campaign believes that an independent inquiry into all the deaths linked to the DWP is needed; we must know if there has been any misconduct and we would like to see more MPs speaking out on this matter.

We have the feeling that a potential criminal investigation might sound extreme to some MPs but we strongly believe that we owe it to the victims and their families to find the truth of what happened and if there is a culture of negligence and victimisation in the DWP, this must be addressed now before we have any more unnecessary suffering.” 

The petition is backed by five grassroots groups: Black Triangle, DPAC, MHRN, the WOW Campaign and WinVisible, as well as Disability News Service.

Among the relatives backing the petition is Peter Carré, whose son Stephen took his own life in January 2010 after being found fit for work following a work capability assessment (WCA), with DWP failing to ask his GP or psychiatrist for further medical evidence that would have proved his eligibility.

His son’s death led to a coroner writing to DWP, just before the 2010 general election, warning that the “trigger” for Stephen’s decision to take his own life had been the decision to find him fit for work, and telling DWP to take action to prevent any further such deaths.

The coroner called for a review by DWP of “the decision not to seek medical advice from the claimant’s own GP or psychiatrist” if they have a mental health condition.

But Tory ministers failed to act on the coroner’s letter – or to produce a proper reply, despite their legal duty to do so – and instead pushed ahead with plans to reassess hundreds of thousands of people on old-style incapacity benefit through the WCA.

Research would later show that this use of the WCA to reassess claimants of incapacity benefit was “associated with” hundreds of suicides.

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

2 May 2019

 

One in seven rejected PIP claims is overturned, DWP figures show

One in seven of all government decisions to reject claims for personal independence payment (PIP) is eventually overturned, new figures obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) have revealed.

The figures show that, of all the PIP claims rejected by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decision-makers in the year to June 2018, 14 per cent were eventually overturned because the decisions were found to have been wrong.

They also show that this rate of overturned rejections has continued to climb every year since 2014-15.

In the year to June 2015, eight per cent of rejected claims in that year were eventually overturned, rising to 12 per cent in the year to June 2016, and then 13 per cent in the year to June 2017.

Now they have risen again, to 14 year per cent of rejected claims in the year to June 2018, of which eight per cent were over-ruled at the mandatory reconsideration (MR) stage – where DWP civil servants review decisions, if requested – and another six per cent at tribunal.

The figures, secured through a DNS freedom of information request, could rise further as some appeals have not yet been heard.

And the true proportion of incorrect PIP decisions will be even higher, because many rejected claimants do not challenge those results, with DWP’s own research – published last autumn – showing that hundreds of thousands more claimants would have taken further steps to challenge the results of their claims if the system had been less stressful and more accessible.

As well as casting fresh doubt on the introduction of PIP in 2013 and how it has been managed by ministers over the last six years, the new figures also raise fresh concerns about the performance of outsourcing companies Atos and Capita, which are being paid hundreds of millions of pounds to assess PIP claimants.

The figure of 14 per cent is far higher than the statistics repeatedly used by the government to defend its reforms, with ministers often stating that about nine or 10 per cent of all PIP decisions have been appealed and only four or five per cent have been successfully overturned.

But those figures include the hundreds of thousands of successful claims, where a disabled person has received a fair decision and therefore has had no need to appeal.

When releasing the latest figures, DWP warned that they were “unpublished data”, “should be used with caution” and “may be subject to future revision”.

DWP this week declined to say whether the figures showed that the PIP assessment process was not fit for purpose, why the figures were continuing to rise, and whether it accepted that they provided a more accurate picture of how well the PIP assessment process was working than the figures usually given by ministers.

But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “3.9 million PIP decisions have been made and, of these, 10 per cent have been appealed and five per cent have been overturned.

As the secretary of state has said, we recognise that the number of people having their decision overturned is too high.

We will therefore do more to gather the evidence we need to make the right decision earlier, so that fewer claimants have to seek redress through tribunal.”

One of the demands of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition is that MPs recognise that DWP is not fit for purpose. To sign the petition, click on this link. If you sign it, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

2 May 2019

Commission highlights ‘double disadvantage’ faced by working-class disabled people

Disabled people from working-class backgrounds are three times less likely than non-disabled people from privileged backgrounds to be in higher-paid jobs, according to a new report from the Social Mobility Commission.

Only 21 per cent of disabled people from working-class backgrounds are in professional or managerial jobs, compared to 63 per cent of non-disabled people from a professional or managerial family background, says the report.

The figures are contained in the commission’s sixth state of the nation report, which was published this week and includes extensive analysis of Office for National Statistics data.

The report highlights the “double disadvantage” faced by disabled people from working-class backgrounds, who are half as likely to be in the highest-paying jobs as disabled people from professional and managerial family backgrounds.

It is the first time the commission has examined how class interacts with gender, ethnicity and disability to affect social mobility.

Its report says that women, disabled people and minority ethnic groups from working-class backgrounds “generally experience multiple disadvantages in occupational outcomes”.

But disabled people from more privileged backgrounds “still face a huge disadvantage” and are 30 per cent less likely to enter professional occupations in comparison to their non-disabled peers.

The commission also examined the impact of disability in education.

Its report highlights the practice of “off rolling” – removing children from the school roll – and warned that the incentive for schools to perform well in performance tables meant some headteachers “may off-roll pupils facing disadvantage just before their exam year”.

The report says: “The national proportion of students with special educational needs and disabilities is 13 per cent, whereas 30 per cent of pupils who leave their school between Year 10 and Year 11 (GCSE examination year) have special educational needs.

This is of concern, particularly given the intersection of disability and socio-economic disadvantage.

This indicates that the system may be having the effect of rewarding schools for ineffective and even unethical behaviour.”

The report also highlights concerns about the impact of school funding pressures on disabled pupils, and it warns that the “increasingly fragmented education system” can mean that single academy trusts and maintained schools find it difficult to buy in the support their disabled pupils need.

Although the commission produced no recommendations for how to address the barriers facing disabled people, it is believed to be publishing a report focusing on disability this summer.

The report concludes that social mobility has stagnated over the last four years at “virtually all stages from birth to work”.

It adds: “Being born privileged in Britain means that you are likely to remain privileged.

Being born disadvantaged, however, means that you will have to overcome a series of barriers to ensure that you and your children are not stuck in the same trap.”

The Social Mobility Commission is an advisory, non-departmental public body originally established by Labour’s Child Poverty Act 2010 as the Child Poverty Commission, but subsequently renamed under the Conservative-led coalition.

It has a duty to assess progress in improving social mobility in the UK and to promote social mobility in England.

2 May 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:44
May 022019
 

Research shows ‘dramatic postcode lottery’ in independent living support

Disabled people’s support to live independently in England is subject to a “dramatic” postcode lottery, according to new research carried out by disabled activists.

The research by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) – based on freedom of information requests to councils across England – shows huge differences across local authorities in how the number of adults receiving social care support changed between 2010 and 2018.

But it also shows striking differences in the proportion of social care service-users who receive their council-funded support through direct payments, and in the financial contributions they must make to their care packages.

The research also provides further evidence of how many disabled people have had their care packages slashed following the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in June 2015.

Linda Burnip, a DPAC co-founder who helped carry out the research, said it showed “the desperate need for a national care service and care free at the point of delivery”.

She said: “It is not acceptable that the needs for support disabled people have can be met in different ways, or even not met at all, depending solely on where people live.”

Of local authorities that responded, the biggest increase in recipients of social care came in Peterborough, where the number of adults receiving social care rose between 2010 and 2018 by 131 per cent, contrasting with the London borough of Sutton where it fell by 55 per cent.

Nearly all councils that responded said that less than 30 per cent of service-users were receiving direct payments, with the lowest proportion in Bournemouth, with just five per cent, Portsmouth (six per cent) and Wolverhampton (seven per cent).

Of the 57 councils that were able to say how many former ILF-users had seen their care packages cut following the ILF closure, only 12 could calculate proportions and they varied from Wirral council (23 per cent saw a cut to their package) to Hounslow (83 per cent saw a cut).

Of the 57 councils, 10 said no care packages had been reduced, but three local authorities saw between 54 and 110 people have their support cut after the ILF closure.

Five of the councils said some former ILF-users had had their support cut after the closure but others they were responsible for had had their packages increased.

On charging, only one local authority in England – Hammersmith and Fulham – does not charge any service-users for support.

All the others take account of how much the person receives through the care component of disability living allowance or the daily living part of personal independence payment when assessing how much they must pay towards their care.

Only 16 of the 134 local authorities that answered the question said there was a maximum charge for the amount a disabled person could contribute to their care.

The lowest maximum charge was in Newham (£200 per week), while the highest was in Blackpool (£650 a week).

DPAC said the responses showed a postcode lottery “not just in relation to the amount of direct payments provided to meet eligible care and support needs but also in relation to how much people have to pay for any needs to be met”.

Last week, at a parliamentary meeting hosted by Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) – of which DPAC is a member – set out its demands for a new national independent living support service that would eliminate the postcode lottery in support.

The meeting last Thursday (25 April) was also supported by the TUC disabled workers’ committee and DPAC.

ROFA’s position, first revealed in January, is based on principles laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Article 19 of the convention describes how countries signed up to the treaty – like the UK – must recognise the right of all disabled people “to live in the community, with choices equal to others”.

ROFA wants a new national independent living support service to be free, non-means-tested, “provided on the basis of need, not profit”, and funded through general taxation, with a legal right to independent living, and accompanied by an independent living bill of rights.

And it wants to see a strategy for investment in local user-led services alongside the closure of institutionalised, segregated settings including long-stay hospitals and assessment and treatment units.

Mark Harrison, from ROFA, told the meeting that its vision for the future of independent living had been inspired by former ILF-users, some of whom had become “prisoners in their own homes” since its closure.

He warned about the “dangerous” moves towards the re-institutionalisation of disabled people, particularly in private-run assessment and treatment units.

And he called on Labour to work with disabled people now, ahead of drawing up its next general election manifesto, to co-produce an independent living service.

One disabled service-user who spoke at the meeting, Rob Surrey, said: “Members of the public just assume I get 24/7 support.

I don’t and I wouldn’t want that, but they assume if you are disabled and have high support needs you get all your needs met. That just isn’t true.

Care is like a postcode lottery – depending on where you live, it does depend on how many hours you might get given.

If the care budget was centralised and could be accessed from all over the country this could take away that lottery.”

2 May 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 15:40
May 022019
 

MPs must speak out on criminal probe into DWP death links, say activists

MPs have been asked why they are failing to speak out to back calls for a police investigation into alleged criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants that may have led to the deaths of benefit claimants.

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

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

Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens – and now the SNP, although it does not accept that DWP is institutionally disablist – have all backed the petition, but no MP appears to have spoken publicly yet of the need for evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to police.

The only such comments from a politician appear to have come from Jonathan Bartley, the co-leader of the Greens, who is not an MP, but has made it clear that he believes DWP has “blood on its hands”.

Disabled activists have now questioned why MPs have been so reluctant to mention this key element of the petition, and they have called on them to speak out about the need for justice for those who have died.

Eight families of disabled people whose deaths have been linked to DWP failings have so far backed the petition, and its call for any evidence of criminal misconduct that comes from an inquiry to be passed to police.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said: “MHRN is determined that there will eventually be a criminal investigation into benefit deaths, however long we have to wait.

There is a huge amount of evidence that many deaths have been a direct result of the actions of the DWP following the policies of this government.

Are those who are implicated in these deaths above the law? Are there people in government and government departments who can do whatever harm they want with impunity?

Disabled people will fight for such an investigation; we will continue to do so even if it takes years to get one.

It seems strange and sad that MPs have not been calling for this to happen now.

Why drag this out for disabled people and the families of those who have lost their loved ones?

MHRN want MPs to act now to make this investigation happen as soon as possible. Why should we have to wait any longer for what is inevitable?”

Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said: “Enough MPs know about the harm and death caused by the hostile environment against disabled people perpetrated by this government, but why haven’t they joined the supporters of the Jodey Whiting petition in calling for a criminal investigation?

Disabled people will be watching for MPs to join the call for a criminal investigation, and we’ll be watching who remains silent.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “While MPs busy themselves obsessing with the ludicrous fiasco that is ‘Brexit’ we should like to remind them that sick and disabled people’s lives are being crushed under the weight of systems and policies that are driving disabled people into destitution, hunger, rent arrears, homelessness and, tragically, suicide.

This, too, requires their urgent, immediate, and undivided attention.

We think that it is unconscionable that we should be forced to jump through hoops to obtain the help and support that we have a right to expect from our elected representatives in the face of such a humanitarian catastrophe.”

Laura Stringhetti, of the WOWcampaign, said: “For the past nine years, we have heard of far too many deaths caused by the failings of the DWP.

Each of these deaths has left heartbroken families and friends behind.

Yet nothing has changed; on the contrary, with universal credit things are getting even worse.

The WOW Campaign believes that an independent inquiry into all the deaths linked to the DWP is needed; we must know if there has been any misconduct and we would like to see more MPs speaking out on this matter.

We have the feeling that a potential criminal investigation might sound extreme to some MPs but we strongly believe that we owe it to the victims and their families to find the truth of what happened and if there is a culture of negligence and victimisation in the DWP, this must be addressed now before we have any more unnecessary suffering.” 

The petition is backed by five grassroots groups: Black Triangle, DPAC, MHRN, the WOW Campaign and WinVisible, as well as Disability News Service.

Among the relatives backing the petition is Peter Carré, whose son Stephen took his own life in January 2010 after being found fit for work following a work capability assessment (WCA), with DWP failing to ask his GP or psychiatrist for further medical evidence that would have proved his eligibility.

His son’s death led to a coroner writing to DWP, just before the 2010 general election, warning that the “trigger” for Stephen’s decision to take his own life had been the decision to find him fit for work, and telling DWP to take action to prevent any further such deaths.

The coroner called for a review by DWP of “the decision not to seek medical advice from the claimant’s own GP or psychiatrist” if they have a mental health condition.

But Tory ministers failed to act on the coroner’s letter – or to produce a proper reply, despite their legal duty to do so – and instead pushed ahead with plans to reassess hundreds of thousands of people on old-style incapacity benefit through the WCA.

Research would later show that this use of the WCA to reassess claimants of incapacity benefit was “associated with” hundreds of suicides.

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

2 May 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:38
May 012019
 

In response to our protest outside Facebook last week, their product policy team have offered us a meeting to discuss examples where we think blocking may have been down to disabilist bias within their systems. If you have examples you would like brought to FB’s attention please let us know by contacting us at: mail@dpac.uk.net.

Thanks to model and actor @TheLadyFuchsia for sharing with us the below photos. The top image – if her in a wheelchair – always gets blocked. The below – without a wheelchair – never does.

Apr 252019
 

Front cover of "Independent Living for the Future" documentDownload report here: NILSS_final

The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, a network of  disabled people and our organisations in England, is asking for support for a bold new vision for independent living* for the future. (* The phrase ‘independent living’ is not about disabled people doing things on our own, it means having choice and control over our own lives, being included in the community and having the same chances to take part as other people.)

The social care and mental health systems are currently in crisis and as a result disabled people’s rights to an adequate standard of living, to dignity and inclusion and to equal participation in society are being taken backwards.

In its present state, the system is not fit to respond to current needs, let alone predicted greater needs in the future. Disabled people’s experiences of support are subject to a post code lottery and differ considerably depending upon impairment.

Disabled people and our organisations are calling for a better system guaranteeing consistent levels of adequate support. This will not only benefit us and our families but will strengthen wider society, save costs in other areas and produce social and economic benefits.

Our vision of a national independent living support system is set out in the position paper “Independent Living for the Future” which you can download above or below for the easy read version.

Please sign up in support using the form at the end of this page and help us reclaim disabled people’s futures by making our vision a reality.

Picture of front cover of easy read version

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NILSS_easyread

 Posted by at 15:17
Apr 232019
 

NEWS!

DWP Deaths In Cambridge

Artist and DPAC activist, Vince Laws, has produced a series of ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds, many of which will be on display at Cambridge Junction on Friday 26 & Saturday 27 April 2019.

The ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds describe the circumstances of death of named people dealing with the DWP, and give more information about the current hostile environment for disabled people.

DWP Deatgs make me Sick Shrouuds by Vince Laws

The ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds were the backdrop to a live performance called ‘A Very Queer Nazi Faust’ put on by Laws and 13 Norfolk based disability rights activists at Norwich Arts Centre in September 2018. A Very Queer Nazi Faust was commissioned and supported by Unlimited, celebrating the work of disabled artists, with funding from Spirit of 2012.

In it, poet John Faust is suicidal. His benefits have been stopped without warning, the bailiffs are due to evict him, his dog is in the vets dying, his car needs a new clutch, and he can’t finish his poetic masterpiece while the voices inside his head torment him. In despair, he throws himself off Beeston Bump, Norfolk’s highest peak, clutching ‘The Tragic True Life & Deserved Death of a Benefit Scrounger by Himself’, but Lucifer won’t let John drown because she loves his work and wants a bigger part.

You can listen to the podcast free here: https://soundcloud.com/avqnf/the-tragic-true-life-deserved-death-of-a-benefit-scrounger-by-himself-john-faust-1

There is now a ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ Facebook page. Images of the 25 shrouds made so far are on the page, with the text printed under them. The shrouds will be on display around the UK in 2019.

The ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds describe the circumstances of death of named people dealing with the DWP. The 3 in this photo remember these 3 people: Paul Reekie. Suffered severe depression. Found Fit For Work by Atos. DWP Stopped his benefits. He committed suicide. Mark Wood. Found Fit For Work by Atos, Against his Doctor's Advice, Complex Mental Health, Benefits stopped, starved to death. DWP Deaths Make Me Sick. Just doing my job.' Linda Wooton. Heart & Lung Transplant patient. Died 9 Days After DWP Found her Fit For Work. DWP Deaths Make Me Sick. Just doing my job.

The ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds describe the circumstances of death of named people dealing with the DWP. The 3 in this photo remember these 3 people:
Paul Reekie. Suffered severe depression. Found Fit For Work by Atos. DWP Stopped his benefits. He committed suicide.
Mark Wood. Found Fit For Work by Atos, Against his Doctor’s Advice, Complex Mental Health, Benefits stopped, starved to death.
DWP Deaths Make Me Sick. Just doing my job.’
Linda Wooton. Heart & Lung Transplant patient. Died 9 Days After DWP Found her Fit For Work.
DWP Deaths Make Me Sick. Just doing my job.

I want to get them seen,” said Laws. “I feel the need to carry on screaming about the human rights abuses of this current Tory government. The shrouds are actually quite painful to make. I take breaks. They are very sad. But also very powerful because they are the truth.”

DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/DWPDeaths/

Anyone wishing to display some shrouds, get in touch with Vince Laws direct via vincelaws@gmail.com.

Vince Laws’ DWP Deaths Make Me Sick can be seen at Cambridge Junction on 26th & 27th April as part of I’m Here, Where Are You?, a new arts festival celebrating disabled artists across theatre, comedy, dance and visual art. For more information, please visit the website: https://www.junction.co.uk/im-here-where-are-you?spektrix_bounce=true

 Posted by at 14:40
Apr 182019
 

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

The aim is to do the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they confirmed this week that Hannah was never interviewed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She told DNS how she saw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Not her real name

12 April 2019

 Posted by at 22:35
Apr 112019
 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 April 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The council now provides no funding at all to MCIL.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*To donate money to Merton CIL, visit this page

11 April 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You killed my daughter by not safeguarding her.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 April 2019

 

 

Tomlinson becomes latest ‘shoddy, shameless’ disability minister

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 April 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 April 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 April 2019

 

 

Autistic authors’ guide maps out route to quality care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 April 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 April 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 15:01
Apr 042019
 

 

DWP admits destroying report on safety failings in jobcentres

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But these documents did not include the safeguarding report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel said she backed the petition.

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

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

*Not her real name

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

4 April 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He and Michael served in the army together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our sympathies are with [his] family.

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

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

*Names have been changed at his widow’s request

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

4 April 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 April 2019

 

 

Campaigner pledges to devote his last months to saving independent living

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 April 2019

 

 

Labour backs all Jodey Whiting petition demands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 April 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is particularly true for disabled and older people.

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

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

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

This has to change and as rapidly as possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 April 2019

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Not their real names

4 April 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 15:48