Sep 192019
 

 

The shocking truth about disability benefits: Successful appeals double in a decade

Disabled people are almost twice as likely to win their disability benefit appeal than they were 10 years ago, at the start of almost a decade of Conservative control of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

DWP has this week refused to explain why the success rate for disability benefit appeals at tribunal has nearly doubled in the last 10 years.

The figures, based on Disability News Service (DNS) analysis of Ministry of Justice (MoJ) data, cast yet more doubt on personal independence payment (PIP) and how it has been managed by ministers since its introduction.

But they also raise concerns about the overall quality of decision-making in DWP – both on PIP and disability living allowance (DLA) – and the apparent push to remove benefits unlawfully from as many disabled people as possible in the name of austerity.

And they 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 DNS analysis of MoJ figures from the last decade shows that the proportion of tribunal appeals that found in favour of DLA claimants was just 38 per cent in 2010-11, the first year of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.

But in every year since 2010-11, that success rate has increased, to 40 per cent in 2011-12, 41 per cent in 2012-13, then to 42 per cent, 49 per cent, 56 per cent, 58 per cent, 60 per cent, and finally 66 per cent in 2018-19.

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

The latest figures released by MoJ this month show that 73 per cent of PIP claimants in 2018-19 saw the decision originally made by DWP decision-makers revised in their favour at tribunal.

This is almost twice the rate of success of DLA claimants in 2010-11.

Figures for the latest quarter – April to June 2019 – show the PIP rate of overturn has continued to climb even further, and has now reached 75 per cent, the same as the rate for employment and support allowance, the out-of-work disability benefit.

DWP has repeatedly tried to argue that only about four or five per cent of all PIP claims are eventually appealed successfully.

But many rejected claimants do not challenge the benefit decision handed to them by DWP, 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 was less stressful and more accessible.

The rate of success is also far higher for appeals against PIP claims that have been completely rejected, with DNS revealing earlier this year that one in seven (14 per cent) of all rejected PIP claims is eventually overturned, either at the mandatory reconsideration stage – where DWP civil servants review decisions, if requested – or at tribunal.

Anita Bellows, a researcher for Disabled People Against Cuts, said the increase in the proportion of successful appeals showed that DWP was “making more and more wrong PIP entitlement decisions”.

She said: “And as mandatory reconsiderations and the hoops that PIP and other claimants have to go through are real barriers to access to justice, the number and percentage of wrong first time PIP decisions have to be much higher.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg, showing that not only the assessment in itself is flawed, but DWP staff are not complying with the law.”

Yesterday (Wednesday), DWP refused to offer an explanation for the increase in the proportion of successful appeals over the last decade, and refused to say if the figures showed the department and its contractors had been trying increasingly to find people unfairly ineligible for DLA and PIP in order to cut spending.

But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We want people to get the right PIP outcome as quickly as possible.

“That’s why we have introduced a new approach to gather evidence so that fewer people have to go to appeal, and we have recruited extra staff to help reduce waiting times.”

He said this related to a “new operational approach where we are proactively contacting claimants to gather additional oral and written evidence during a mandatory reconsideration for PIP”.

19 September 2019

 

 

DWP’s silence on its own annual progress report on disability… and its string of flops

The government’s own report on its progress in building an inclusive society for disabled people – and the string of failures included in the document – has been ignored by the disability minister, and his department’s press office.

The policy paper was published on the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) website – but not on its home page – and was completely ignored on social media by Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

ODI’s own Twitter account overlooked the progress report’s publication on 12 September, as did DWP’s main Twitter account, while the department failed to issue a press release to mark what DWP described as an annual progress report “on the UK’s vision to build a society which is fully inclusive of disabled people”.

Tomlinson’s refusal to publicise the report could be linked to its potentially embarrassing contents.

The government brags in the policy paper that it is setting up a new regional stakeholder network to improve engagement with disabled people and disabled people’s organisations.

But eight months after it first issued a call for applicants, it has yet to announce the names of those appointed, a delay which may be connected to the government’s decision not to pay the members, or even the chairs, of the nine new regional groups.

The report also fails to mention that the government has issued no updates or progress reports on its discredited Fulfilling Potential disability strategy since November 2015, nearly four years ago.

There has been a broad welcome for the decision – announced in June in one of Theresa May’s last announcements as prime minister – that ODI will move in November from DWP to the Cabinet Office as part of a new “equalities hub at the heart of government”.

Tomlinson says in the report that this will bring disability “to the very heart of Government and recognises that disabled people face barriers across a wide range of aspects of their lives”.

He also repeats his pledge that the government will “strengthen the evidence base on disability and improve engagement with disabled people and their organisations”.

But in February, in a meeting with his predecessor, Sarah Newton, disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) repeated their concerns at the government’s continuing failure to understand the principles around engagement with disabled people and DPOs, as laid out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The previous month, campaigners were left “shocked and appalled” by the government’s decision to hold a workshop on the barriers facing disabled people without inviting a single DPO to take part, again in breach of its UNCRPD obligations.

The policy paper was published alongside a second report – which again was not publicised by DWP – that details the government’s progress in responding to a high-profile 2016 UN report which found it had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of the convention by discriminating against disabled people.

Most of this discrimination was as a result of policies introduced by Conservative DWP ministers between 2010 and 2015.

This second report lists government policies introduced since 2016, some of which are also included in the policy paper, but also cover developments on legal aid, disability benefits assessments, disability employment, and disability hate crime.

The policy paper on progress in building an inclusive society also attempts to brag about a string of other government failures on disability.

One of those is the new “Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability and Society”, which was set up 18 months ago.

But Disability News Service (DNS) reported in July that the group met just three times in more than a year.

Another success claimed by Tomlinson is the appointment of “18 Sector Champions”, chosen to “raise awareness of the needs of disabled consumers and encourage their sectors to improve the accessibility and quality of their services and facilities for disabled people”.

But DNS revealed earlier this month that DWP had admitted having no idea how many of the sector champions – there are actually 19, not 18 – are disabled people themselves.

One of DWP’s few successes has been to increase the number of disabled people in paid employment – the policy paper points to an increase of 404,000 between 2017 and 2019 – although research by DPOs showed last year that more than half the increase in disability employment in the previous four years had been due to disabled people becoming self-employed or taking part-time jobs.

The policy paper also boasts that the government has doubled the number of employment advisers placed within mental health talking therapy services.

But these placements have been hugely controversial and members of the mental health survivor movement last month launched a campaign to force the government to scrap its insistence that finding a job or returning to work was an important health “outcome” for those with mental distress.

The policy paper praises the government’s Disability Confident scheme, which has so far seen about 12,000 employers sign up since it was launched by the then prime minister David Cameron more than six years ago.

Many critics have argued that it is easy for employers to sign up to the scheme and then continue to discriminate against disabled people, and not even employ a single disabled person while still proclaiming themselves to be “Disability Confident”.

DNS reported last year how the Employment Tribunal had dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against DWP – which is itself a Disability Confident “leader” – by its own staff over a 20-month period.

And DNS reported last year that the nearly 7,000 employers that had signed up by then to Disability Confident had promised to provide just 4,500 new jobs for disabled people between them.

There is also a mention in the policy paper for the government’s role in supporting Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first accessible shopping day.

DWP’s involvement in the scheme led to calls for a boycott from disabled activists, amid fears that CCTV footage from the event could be used to dispute disability benefit claims.

The policy paper also mentions the EnAble Fund for Elected Office, which helped 19 disabled people win seats at May’s local elections by paying for their disability-related expenses.

But the government has refused to extend the scheme to general election candidates, with one warning last month that this failure had “completely cut disabled people out of the political arena”.

Asked about the failure to publicise the report, and whether this was because Tomlinson was embarrassed about its contents, a DWP spokesperson said: “This government has a strong track record on breaking down the barriers that disabled people can face in every area of their lives.

“This policy paper is an annual summary of improvements made throughout the year – it contains no further information that is not already available in the public domain – and is publicly available on the Gov.uk website.”

Another DWP spokesperson said: “We will be announcing further details of the Regional Stakeholder Network in due course.”

19 September 2019

 

 

Lib Dem conference: Party ‘probably overlooked’ working-age disabled people

The Liberal Democrats have admitted that they probably “overlooked” the need for a detailed policy on the care and support needs of working-age disabled people.

The admission to Disability News Service (DNS) by the party’s health spokesperson in the Lords, Baroness Jolly, came after party members criticised its new NHS and social care policy paper for ignoring those needs.

The policy paper refers to the “devastating” impact on health and social care posed by Brexit, and particularly a no-deal Brexit, including the effect on the country’s ability to recruit health and social care staff, and to source medication.

It says the party in government would raise an extra £6 billion to boost spending on social care, public health and mental health.

There are policies on carers and people with learning difficulties, including a pledge to give every person with learning difficulties the right to a named advocate to help them “navigate public services and access health, care and advice services”.

There is also a promise to set a new national target to reduce the gap in life expectancy between people with and without learning difficulties by one year every year.

And there is the promise of a more “ambitious” target for reducing the number of people with learning difficulties forced into assessment and treatment centres.

But despite the spending pledge and a mention of the “postcode lottery” in care, there is no discussion of how the party in government would address the support needs of working-age disabled people.

The failure comes at a time when backing for a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) – proposed by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) of disabled people’s grassroots groups – is gaining momentum.

A NILSS would see a legal right to independent living, with support provided free at the point of need, funded by general taxation, managed by central government, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people.

Baroness Jolly, who chairs the learning difficulties charity HfT, told the party’s annual conference in Bournemouth this week that the only way to secure the future of social care was through setting up a cross-party commission on health and social care.

This, according to the policy paper, would aim to set a “realistic” long-term funding settlement for the NHS and social care, and introduce a dedicated health and social care tax to fund it.

But there was frustration among members who spoke in the debate at the lack of a proper social care policy, with detail about how a Liberal Democrat government would reform adult social care.

Cllr June Greenwell, a Liberal Democrat member of Lancaster City Council, told the conference that she could not endorse the “deeply disappointing” policy paper because social care services were discussed “almost entirely, indeed entirely, through the prism of their effect on the NHS”.

She said: “Social care services matter because the people who need those services matter and they matter whatever the impact on the NHS, and we should be saying so.”

Greenwell said the party had failed to offer “a vision, an ambition to radically improve access to social care services”.

The party’s candidate to fight the North Warwickshire seat at the next general election, Richard Whelan, who himself has a council-funded support package, said the motion “does not go far enough”.

He told members debating the new policy paper: “For someone like me, we need more than just the basic care needs, we need personal assistance.

“We need help to live an independent life. Allowing me to get here today to speak to you… involves not just the care in the home, it involves help outside the home, but it also involves help with getting educational qualifications and getting into work.

“All these things go beyond the remit of this motion and this paper.”

He called for the party to set up a working group to discuss the issue, and to bring it back to conference next year “so that disabled people can live an independent life”.

The policy paper was approved by members and has now become party policy.

But Whelan told DNS after the debate: “It’s frustrating to me that all they have talked about is linking health and social care and care workers.”

He said the party did not seem to have a policy on the support needs of working-age disabled people.

Whelan appeared to support the NILSS idea, and a legal right to independent living, as proposed by ROFA.

He said he was pushing the party to set up a working group to report back with a motion on independent living at next year’s conference, and he added: “We have to do it properly.”

Baroness Jolly told DNS that the issue of the support needs of working-age disabled people was probably “overlooked rather than ignored” by the policy paper and the motion.

She blamed the party’s lack of resources to fund detailed policy work, caused she said by its performance at the last general election, which led to a lower level of funding for its parliamentary work.

She said: “We are a very under-resourced party.”

She said her message to working-age disabled people was: “Lib Dems look forward to the next general election where we would hope to increase the number of Lib Dem MPs which would then give us the capacity to expand our policy base.”

But she said she would also speak to senior people in the party and “ask them to plug the gap in today’s paper and today’s motion”.

Although the health and social care policy paper offered little to address the issue, another paper, on social security, poverty and access to services and skills, said the party wanted to reintroduce “a form of” the Independent Living Fund, which was closed by the Tory government in June 2015.

The social security paper, which has also now become party policy after being approved by members at the conference (see separate story), said a Liberal Democrat government would “reinstate a form of the Independent Living Fund to help people who need it to live independently in their community”.

But it also said it would “increase the role of local authorities in administering the support to ensure that it is properly responsive to local needs”, which could clash with calls for a NILSS.

The idea of a return of a form of ILF was not mentioned in either motion debated by the conference this week.

19 September 2019

 

 

Lib Dem conference: Party would keep universal credit… but scrap sanctions

The Liberal Democrats have ruled out scrapping universal credit (UC) if they win power at the next general election, but they have agreed to scrap all benefit sanctions.

At their annual conference in Bournemouth this week, members overwhelmingly endorsed the party’s new policy paper, A Fairer Share For All.

The party says it would “abolish the benefits sanctions system entirely” and replace it with a system of incentives, a policy which currently goes further than Labour, which so far has promised only to scrap the “punitive sanctions regime” and not all sanctions.

It came as reports suggested that Labour was considering scrapping UC if it wins power at the next general election, with the issue almost certain to be discussed at the party conference in Brighton, which starts on Saturday.

A report on UC in June, by Disabled People Against Cuts, contained “harrowing stories of people forced into debt, rent arrears, homelessness, crime, prostitution, hunger, people unable to afford fares to get to food banks, parents unable to get essentials for their babies, child poverty, worsening mental health, ex-service people considering suicide and even cases of actual suicide”.

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that UC 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.

The Liberal Democrats say they would reduce the much-criticised five-week wait for claimants to receive their first UC payment to just five days, while there would be an investment of at least £5 billion in improving the benefit system.

But the policy paper, which together with a motion approved by members this week is now Liberal Democrat policy, ruled out the idea of scrapping UC, which was introduced under the Tory-led coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

It argues that “scrapping it and starting again when millions of people have now moved to the new system is impractical and would see more money spent again on administration rather than supporting people”.

Instead, a Liberal Democrat government would aim to “fix existing problems and construct a new benefits system which provides dignity and respect”.

It would also abolish the bedroom tax and offer instead “a positive incentive for people to downsize” their accommodation.

The paper does not explicitly repeat the party’s pledge made at the last election to scrap the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA), a process which has been linked to countless deaths of disabled people.

Instead, the party says it will bring the WCA “in-house” and ensure it is carried out “fairly and in a sensitive manner”.

But a party spokesman insisted that the policy had not changed and that the Liberal Democrats still wanted to see assessments “performed by the government in a fair and sensitive manner”.

This means scrapping WCAs and “replacing them with locally administered assessment”, he said, which would include “real world tests, so that people are assessed on their ability to do jobs that are available locally”.

Although the policy paper rules out introducing a universal basic income – which Labour has been considering – it says a Liberal Democrat government would pilot a scheme that offered a “guaranteed minimum income” through an “unconditional payment” of the standard UC allowance (currently £318 per month for a single adult over 24).

But Michael Berwick-Gooding told fellow party members during a debate on the new policy that they should “demand better”, including reintroducing the council tax benefit scheme and doing more to restore benefit levels that have been restricted by years of caps and freezes.

Another speaker, Cllr Dean Crofts, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Bedford, said the new policy just “tinkers with the welfare system”, which had already been “tinkered with for too long”.

He criticised the motion for failing to do more to highlight the poverty affecting disabled people, which he said was the group most affected by the government’s welfare reforms.

Ewan Hoyle, a party member from Glasgow who works in deprived communities in the city and who supported the motion, warned of the “dreadful” consequences of benefit sanctions.

He said: “The money given to benefit recipients doesn’t just vanish, it gets immediately recycled into the community within hours of its receipt.

“Every sanction, every five-week delay, is a crack in the fabric of that community.

“When you have no income and no means to feed your children, or heat your home, is it easy to turn away a drug dealer, a loan shark, a pimp, and the income they offer?

“Sanctions are a means to punish people the Daily Mail doesn’t like… I think society is ready for a change.”

He added: “With this motion we are for the many, we are for the few… and we are also for the other few that don’t fit into Labour’s ideal of the worker.

“We are for the depressed, the anxious, the psychotic, the sick, the addicted, the traumatised, the downright unlucky, who haven’t had their break.

“We will support those few, show them that they are not forgotten, and that they are valued members of our society.”

Linda Jack, who will fight the Luton South seat for the party at the next general election, won applause from some party members when she said the Liberal Democrats could not “completely wipe out our responsibility in terms of some of the changes in the benefits system that came about when we were in coalition”.

She said: “We did not make mistakes, we made choices.

“If we really want to get our credibility back and we want to be seen to be honest in this motion we absolutely have to acknowledge those mistakes, stop justifying them, and start apologising.”

Former party leader Tim Farron, the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, who moved the motion, said he wanted the country to have “zero tolerance of poverty”, which meant “having a benefit system that works”.

He described the “disgraceful” treatment received by a constituent who had both physical and mental health impairments, and who was rarely able to leave her bed.

He said that the effort she made to reach her WCA was “absolutely heroic”, while she had cried with pain during most of the face-to-face interview.

But the assessor found her fit for work, even though she weighed just five stone, and wrote in the assessment report that she looked healthy and must be fit to work because she had managed to catch a bus to get to the assessment.

Farron said: “I could read a couple of hundred cases like that in Westmorland alone because we have a broken system that breaks those who already feel beaten.

“This is shameful, and it must end, so we will end the contracting out of work assessments and take responsibility back within government.

“Those in need must be treated with dignity, not contempt. We need a benefit system that helps, not hinders; that brings dignity, not destitution.”

One party member spoke in the same debate of a disabled friend whose Motability car was his “lifeline”, but who had had it taken away after a personal independence payment reassessment led to his mobility payment being cut.

After losing his car, he became unable to leave the house, and became depressed and highly anxious, and although he later won his appeal, he died following a heart attack before he could lease a new Motability vehicle.

19 September 2019

 

 

Government faces legal action threat over accessible housing failure

The government is facing the threat of legal action over its failure to take action to solve the crisis in accessible housing.

The housing, communities and local government secretary Robert Jenrick has been told that he may have acted unlawfully over his failure to act.

Shortly before she resigned as prime minister, Theresa May announced a consultation on compulsory higher accessibility standards for new housing.

But there has apparently been no mention of the consultation since the announcement.

Now disabled campaigner Fleur Perry has written to Jenrick to raise these concerns and tell him about her own experience of the accessible housing crisis, while her solicitor at law firm Deighton Pierce Glynn, Louise Whitfield, has detailed concerns about whether his department’s actions have been lawful.

Whitfield’s letter warns that Jenrick may have acted unlawfully by not complying with his public sector equality duty under the Equality Act.

She says: “Given the very obvious lack of accessible housing suitable for disabled people, it is clear that the planning regime is not addressing the needs of this group, and is having an extremely negative effect on the lives of large numbers of disabled people.”

She says there is only “fleeting” mention of the housing needs of disabled people in the government’s National Planning Policy Framework and little or no guidance for councils that makes clear the need for accessible housing and their duties to plan for it.

Whitfield also questions the silence over the consultation since it was announced in June.

And she highlights the lack of guidance to help councils assess the need for accessible housing in their area, which they need to do if they want to set optional minimum requirements for the proportion of new homes that should be accessible and adaptable, and those that are suitable for wheelchair-users.

Research by Disability News Service showed last year that the home-building industry was engaged in a countrywide campaign to defeat attempts by councils to ensure more accessible homes were built through trying to set such targets in their local plans.

Perry, who uses an electric wheelchair, says in her letter to Jenrick that it took her two-and-a-half years to find accessible housing in her home town of Swindon, a search she described as “like trying to find a needle in Loch Ness”.

She has spoken to disabled people who have been waiting for a decade for accessible housing or have been told by social services that it is pointless to even try to find somewhere.

She says: “There are waiting lists hundreds long seeking accessible council housing, and little being built.”

Perry points out that disabled people are being forced to turn down job offers, delay higher education opportunities or starting a family, while others are forced to live in just one or two rooms of their homes.

She said: “There are people living in houses that simply don’t fit, being exhausted by doing their day to day activities within a space that makes it take several times longer or several times more energy.”

Others are forced into nursing homes, she says.

She adds: “There are people unable to move from unsafe accommodation or abusive relationships, living at risk of or experiencing serious injury or harm because there’s nowhere to go.

“Supply is not meeting demand, and unless central and local government take action, nothing will change.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) spokesperson said the department would respond to the letters “in due course”.

He said: “Everyone should be able to access a home which fits their needs, that’s why we have provided over £2.7 billion to deliver around 280,000 adaptations [through disabled facilities grants (DFGs)] since 2012 to help older and disabled people to live independently and safely at home.

“Our revised planning rules mean councils must consider the needs of the elderly and disabled people when planning new homes.

“We have also given councils guidance on options they should consider, such as housing with improved accessibility, so the most vulnerable get the support they need.”

MHCLG is considering the responses to its social housing green paper consultation and expects to publish its action plan for implementing reforms later this month.

Last summer’s green paper failed to mention accessible housing once, although it did refer to the “key role” played by supported housing and to the DFG system.

The two letters came as accessible housing provider Habinteg released the results of a new survey which showed that only one in five of those asked in England, Scotland and Wales said a wheelchair-user would reasonably be able to access all parts of their home.

One wheelchair-user, Sarah O’Connor, from London, said: “I’ve been forced to physically drag myself up each step into my house, heaving my wheelchair behind me.”

Another, Fi Anderson, from Bolton, said: “My eight-year wait for a suitably accessible property meant my kids were denied the chance to have a normal childhood where their mum could tuck them into bed and read them a book.”

A Habinteg report in June said that under a quarter (23 per cent) of new homes due to be built by 2030 outside London were planned to be accessible, and just one per cent of new homes outside London were set to be suitable for wheelchair-users.

19 September 2019

 

 

New group aims to ‘reclaim the true meaning of independent living’

A new group of disabled people and allies in Bristol has been set up to “reclaim the true meaning of independent living”.

Bristol Reclaiming Independent Living (BRIL), which launched this week, is determined to remind the government and others in positions of power that the principles of independent living, which were developed and fought for by disabled people, are being eroded.

The roots of BRIL were in the fight to save the Independent Living Fund, and members this week remembered one of that campaign’s key members, Daphne Branchflower, who died in May, and who had supported BRIL’s  development.

They heard at the launch that many disabled people were afraid to speak out about the social care crisis for fear of repercussions from local authorities and service-providers, while many did not have the support they needed to speak out.

BRIL’s founders believe that phrases like “choice and control” and “independent living” are being used to justify regressive policies, such as cuts to social care, while the Care Act had not produced the promised “level playing field” across different local authorities.

If anything, the meeting heard, the postcode lottery in support had increased since the act became law in 2014.

Disabled people and relatives at the launch meeting agreed that phrases like “independent living” and “person-centred” had been hijacked and used to justify the removal of support.

They also agreed that independent living was not just about social care, but was also about human rights, connections with other people, and being able to live a good life.

BRIL is supporting the aims of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), which has produced proposals for a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS).

The NILSS would run alongside the NHS, and would provide a universal right to independent living, with support provided free at the point of need, funded by general taxation, managed by central government, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people.

BRIL believes that, without such a radical rethink on social care, the achievements fought for by the disabled people’s movement will be “worn away”.

Mark Williams, one of BRIL’s founders, said that many disabled people across the UK were “having their basic rights curtailed, through a drive to make cuts to care packages, increase charges and to remove support”, while this is then described as “encouraging independence’”.

And he warned that some people supposedly in “supported living” settings were in fact really living in institutions, “with no choice or control over how, where and who they live with”.

He said: “Disabled people have described being ‘told’ they are now independent, so they don’t need support with anything other than basic personal care, meaning they don’t have a life beyond just existing.”

He added: “As with everyone throughout the country, we are facing cutbacks in funding due to government and local authority policies.

“Even for those disabled people who may not be personally facing cuts in funding themselves at the moment, there is always the threat of it happening hanging over them.

“The aims of BRIL are to reclaim the true meaning of independent living – not what those in power are telling us it means.”

One of the reasons for the launch of BRIL is the concern that some disabled people’s organisations and other user-led groups have “moved on from actively campaigning for rights, to putting all their energy into raising funds and taking on contracts, just to survive”.

Williams said: “While we understand that under the current regime of austerity and privatisation of health and social care services, many organisations are forced to seek contracts that do not allow them to challenge policies, BRIL, as an independent group, will be able to challenge anyone we believe is not carrying out their legal or moral duties.”

Rebecca Yeo, a disabled academic who is supporting BRIL, said: “BRIL is calling for services and support for independent living to be available to anyone regardless of migration status.

“We have already seen how when we allow the denial of rights to services and support for disabled asylum-seekers to go unchallenged, it is only a matter of time before similar restrictions are extended to a wider population.”

BRIL has been launched with the support of the Social Work Action Network South West, with the hope that disabled people and social workers will be able to work together on the campaign.

Williams said BRIL wanted to reach out to other disabled people in Bristol with support needs.

He said: “There are many disabled people in Bristol that we do not know about who might have already had their funding reduced or not been offered any help at all.

“BRIL will work with our allies to reach those people, who may feel isolated and unsupported.”

Disabled people or allies who are interested in attending future BRIL meetings can email bristol.ilag@gmail.com or call 07505 414319

19 September 2019

 

 

Autistic medical student fears ‘discrimination’ could end career before it has started

An autistic medical student has accused her university of discrimination that could end her career before it has started, after she was prevented from starting the fifth and final year of her degree.

Sarah Potts was forced to take a temporary leave of absence from the course last September, because the University of Leeds said she was not well enough to practise as a doctor.

But she says the university took the action without any evidence that she was not fit to practise, and failed to provide the reasonable adjustments she needed to complete the course.

Its own occupational heath assessment recommended that it draw up an action plan to support her, but she says it failed to do so.

Potts says the university also failed to secure a medical report from an expert in autism; and failed to provide her with clear information about the case against her or show her the medical evidence it was relying on.

She says it also refused to make a reasonable adjustment for her by allowing a lawyer to accompany her to a hearing in front of its health and conduct committee.

And she says the university had earlier failed to make a reasonable adjustment for her by refusing to allow her a local placement rather than the residential one she was offered, a failure which caused her mental health to decline.

The university said this week that it “categorically denies” any discrimination.

But her solicitors say the university repeatedly breached the Equality Act by discriminating against her as a disabled person, and that it had no evidence that she was currently unfit to practise as a doctor.

They have also told the university that it failed to deal with her complaint about how she had been treated within a reasonable time period.

The university has rejected her appeal against its decision.

Her solicitors have now told the university that its actions were potentially “career-ending” for Potts, and that it had acted in a “muddled and haphazard way”.

They added: “The decision to dismiss our client’s appeal without obtaining credible evidence in relation to how she could have been and should have been supported, particularly when requests have been made repeatedly for it, is procedurally unfair and unsafe.”

Potts, who also has ADHD and has had experience of mental distress, is still hoping to persuade the university to allow her to take the fifth year of the course and complete her studies so she can qualify as a doctor.

A University of Leeds spokesperson said: “Supporting all students to help them achieve their potential is central to the university’s work and values.

“We have a proven track record of inclusive practice and providing support to help students reach their academic goals.

“We believe it is inappropriate to discuss the personal details of a student’s case.

“More broadly, however, we can confirm that we are satisfied that we are following due process in this particular case; that we are involving the student closely at every step; that we have disclosed full evidence and information as part of the process; and that we are acting in a timely and diligent manner.

“We categorically deny any discrimination, but the student’s concerns are subject to formal investigation.”

The university declined to clarify what this investigation process involved.

19 September 2019

 

 

Television industry must do more to employ disabled people, says Ofcom

The television broadcasting industry needs to do more to increase the number of disabled people within its workforce, the regulator has warned, with new figures showing progress has stalled.

In its third annual Diversity and Equal Opportunities in Television report, Ofcom says that the proportion of disabled employees working in the UK-based TV industry remains at six per cent for 2018-19, the same as 2017-18.

It calls for a focus on this “continuing and significant under-representation of disabled people within the industry” and criticises the five main broadcasters for failing to make more progress in the last year.

It is particularly critical of Viacom, which owns Channel 5, and Sky.

Channel 4 leads the way on representation, with 11 per cent of its staff self-defining as disabled people, followed by BBC at 10 per cent, and Viacom at eight per cent.

But ITV (at four per cent) and Sky (at just three per cent) currently trail far behind.

Although the report focuses on the five main broadcasters, Ofcom also found that just one per cent of UK staff of broadcasters not based in the UK are disabled.

And its report says there are “significant gaps” in the monitoring of diversity among freelancers across the industry.

David Proud, a disabled actor, writer and producer, and a member of Ofcom’s new diversity panel, said broadcasters had to “stop thinking about disability as a risk”.

He said: “There’s a lot of unconscious bias… it’s not going to cost you a fortune to have disabled artists on your set, it’s not going to be any more risky for your project, it’s going to add value and it’s going to add authenticity.

“If you have someone with a disability as part of the creative process from day one they are going to be able to guide you and be a friendly ear to how the project’s developing and steer it in a direction that isn’t stereotypical or isn’t offensive.

“It’s the most simple thing in the world. If you want to represent a group of people, engage the group of people that you’re trying to represent.”

He added: “I can’t wait until we have a disabled person as a commissioner… as soon as we get disabled people at the highest level of our industry, it will all just be a lot better.”

The Ofcom report warns that some of the larger broadcasters still lack targets for improving disability representation and collection of data on the diversity of their staff.

And it calls on the industry to “materially improve” the proportion of disabled staff through targeted recruitment and career development programmes.

Ofcom says it is also concerned that fewer broadcasters than last year are providing it with data on disability, with less than a third (29 per cent) of broadcasters with at least one UK-based employee providing a full breakdown on the disability data of their staff.

There is no information on the disability status of 29 per cent of staff across the industry, a “marginal improvement” on last year’s 31 per cent.

But Sky’s “data gap” was 38 per cent, while Viacom’s was “extremely high”, with no information on whether 77 per cent of its staff identified as disabled people.

Ofcom also said that Sky had “yet to set clear targets and develop focused plans for disability”.

But Ofcom said there had been some positive developments.

BBC has promised that disabled people will make up 12 per cent of its workforce by the end of 2022.

Channel 4 has said it will shortly announce a major disability initiative in the lead-up to the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics, with the aim of supporting 100 disabled people to progress their careers in television.

Channel 4 is also planning to publish its first disability pay gap figures, which the BBC continues to publish annually.

ITV has held a series of disability awareness-raising events in the last year, with a focus on invisible impairments, and has announced a set of diversity targets for 2022 which include increasing representation of disabled people to eight per cent.

ITV is also working with Microlink, the assistive technology company.

And Viacom has continued to work with a consultant to create a more inclusive environment for disabled employees.

Ofcom also praised the five main broadcasters for their “bold and ambitious goal” of doubling the percentage of disabled people working in television by 2020.

19 September 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 20:43

New DPAC TShirt Design captures the spirit of Britain today

 News  Comments Off on New DPAC TShirt Design captures the spirit of Britain today
Sep 162019
 

We set out to mark this year’s Tory party conference with a special commemorative Tshirt design that’s in keeping with the feelings of many people up and down the country today.

After many hours of discussion and debate and many rejected ideas, we finally settled on this design which was then created as an image by the ever wonderful Brian Hilton.

These Tshirts are available to buy on our products page at £10 plus £3 p&p, sizes small, medium, large XL XXL XXXL

the Fuck Off Boris is the size of the front of the teeshirt with the O of Off being the DPAC logo. They're black and words are enclosed by red lines

 Posted by at 22:35
Sep 122019
 

Labour ‘on collision course with UN and EHRC over independent living’

The Labour party is on a “collision course” with the equality and human rights watchdog and the United Nations because of its failure to accept the need for a legal right to independent living, according to a national network of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs).

The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) has called on Labour to join the TUC in backing its proposals for a new National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS) that would give disabled people crucial new rights to free support.

A meeting of ROFA members and supporters from across England agreed on Friday on their priorities for winning support for NILSS.

Among those priorities was to push Labour to include the plans in its next general election manifesto.

There was also “contempt” at the meeting for the Conservative-led government’s continuing failure to publish its own much-delayed plans for solving the adult social care funding crisis.

ROFA’s demands for a NILSS were first set out in January, in the Independent Living for the Future document, and backing for the plan appears to be growing.

On Friday, the Trades Union Congress passed a motion – proposed by Sean McGovern, co-chair of TUC’s disabled workers’ committee – that calls on the next Labour government to establish a NILSS.

The motion had been passed by TUC’s annual Disabled Workers’ Conference in May.
Such a service, running alongside the NHS, would provide a universal right to independent living, with support provided free at the point of need, funded by general taxation, managed by central government, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people.

Similar motions have been passed by local Labour branches, with the hope that the proposals will be debated on the floor of the party’s annual conference in Brighton from 21 September.

And the day after Friday’s meeting, ROFA member Andrew Day passed Jeremy Corbyn a letter, when the Labour leader visited him during a visit to Norwich, in which he asked him to meet ROFA to discuss the NILSS proposals.
Mark Harrison, a ROFA member who helped draw up the strategy and took part in Friday’s meeting, said the disabled people’s movement was united behind NILSS.

He said the idea could be “transformational” if it was adopted by Labour as part of its general election manifesto.
But he said he did not believe that the party’s shadow social care minister, Barbara Keeley, had engaged with representative DPOs on social care and the right to independent living, as the party should have been doing because of principles laid out in article four of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Labour disputed this and insisted that Keeley had not refused to meet with RoFA, and “regularly consults with a range of stakeholders, including people with lived experience, on social care policy development”.

Harrison said Labour’s current policies on social care were “pathetic” and “neither transformational nor socialist”.
He said Labour was currently on a “collision course” with the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which has called for the UK to introduce a legal right to independent living, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has also backed such a move.

Although Labour’s 2017 general election manifesto (PDF) promised to sign the UN convention into UK law, the party has since shied away from promising a legal right to independent living, which is offered by article 19 of the treaty.
Harrison said ROFA would hold the Labour party’s “feet to the fire” over independent living.

He said: “This could be a flagship commitment of a new Labour government coming to power.”

He also said there was “complete contempt” for the government at Friday’s meeting over its failure to publish its plans for social care, and for its own failure to engage with representative organisations of disabled people.

He said “momentum was building” behind the NILSS idea, and he added: “That was the good thing about Friday: the momentum is building up and people are really on it, determined that we are not going to let this one go.

“The Labour party should not be waiting. It should be engaging with us now.”

A Labour party spokesperson said: “The proposals fall across a range of government policy areas, from work and pensions and health and social care to justice.

“They will be considered carefully as part of Labour’s policy development process.”

She added: “Labour is committed to addressing the crisis in social care.

“Our plans for a National Care Service will provide dignity in older age, and independence and support for people with disabilities.

“Our plans will ensure that social care receives the funding it needs, at a time when Tory austerity has created the national crisis in social care.”

The Department of Health and Social Care had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).

12 September 2019

 

Watchdog to launch project to fund legal actions on transport discrimination

The equality watchdog is to launch a new project that will provide funding for disabled and older people to take legal action when they have faced discrimination on public transport.

The fund has not yet been officially launched by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), but it has approached disability organisations and other stakeholders about the project.

It would see EHRC providing funding to pay a solicitor or barrister to represent older or disabled people who would not otherwise be able to afford to pursue legal action against transport providers under the Equality Act.

One of EHRC’s priority aims for this year, as laid out in its annual business plan (PDF), is to ensure that public transport “supports the economic and social inclusion of disabled people and older people”.

The project is believed to be linked to this aim and its pledge to support at least 25 legal cases “which resolve issues for the individuals”, and to use information from these cases to influence its policy work.

The plans have already won support from key disabled campaigners, despite opposition from Stephen Brookes, the government’s disability champion for the rail sector and a Disability Rights UK (DR UK) ambassador.
Brookes criticised the plans in a post on the DR UK website, before later confirming his concerns to Disability News Service.

He said he had told EHRC that legal action should only be taken when all other avenues, such as complaints to the transport company, and then to the ombudsman, had failed.

He said: “Litigation should be the final recourse if you don’t get satisfaction from the normal procedures.
“I want a long-term solution and not a quick fix.”

But the post on the DR UK site was later removed, with EHRC saying it had been posted “in error”, while DR UK stressed that it supported the EHRC project.

Doug Paulley, who has taken multiple successful legal actions against public transport companies for disability discrimination, securing important gains for disabled transport-users, including one which secured a victory in the Supreme Court, also supported EHRC’s plans.

He said he “fundamentally and strongly” disagreed with Brookes.

He said: “Complaints don’t always make it to the relevant people who can actually ‘do something’ at the company.
“I can think of multiple occasions where the contracted-out customer relations system has shielded those with the power and control from the content of the complaint.

“Legal action can be effective at cutting through the customer relations barrier, to those with real management responsibilities who have often thanked me for doing so as otherwise they would be totally unaware of the passenger experience in question.”

Paulley said the rail ombudsman had only a limited role and was “very consumer oriented” and failed to achieve industry change.

He said the complaints process and the ombudsman were both “very focussed” on customer service and customer service failure.

He added: “Disability discrimination, including service failures in disability provision and other failures to make reasonable adjustments, are not failures in customer service provision.

“They are illegal and should be treated as such.”

Paulley also pointed out that going through the complaints and ombudsman processes cut into the short period of time allowed for taking a discrimination case under the Equality Act, which was usually just six months.
Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, also welcomed EHRC’s project.

He said: “Disabled people are persistently frustrated in their efforts to use public transport, in part because of the failure of transport providers to meet their responsibilities under equalities legislation.

“We’d encourage disabled people to use all the policies and procedures available to them, such as complaints systems, if they are denied the services they should be able to use.

“That includes pointing out where there have been breaches of legislation.”

He added: “We are of course happy to have a dialogue with any transport provider seeking to improve the experience of disabled customers.

“But we’re often fobbed off with shallow excuses and lightweight apologies. It’s down to transport providers to ensure they comply with the law.

“Any individual should be able to take legal action as and when need be.”

Transport for All (TfA), the user-led charity which campaigns on accessible transport in London, also supported they new EHRC project.

Kirsty Hoyle, TfA’s chief executive, said: “Transport for All are pleased that the EHRC are taking the rights of disabled and older people to access transport seriously and commend the decision to both commit to this in their recent policy and to set up a funded project intended to support their aims.

“We work closely with the transport sector: providing training, consultancy and as a critical friend, and we believe that many issues can and are remedied without the need for legal action.

“But we also believe that it is essential that D/deaf, disabled and older people get good legal advice and support to challenge discrimination when it happens.

“This project will do exactly this and we will continue utilising all the mechanisms available to us to tackle the repeated instances of discrimination that are reported to Transport for All every day.

“This benefits the transport sector too – who we know want to understand and comply with the law and we hope want to strive to be beacons of good practice – particularly as London and the UK are starting to fall behind in terms of access to transport.

“We share concerns with others that single agenda matters can detract from the systemic issues but projects like this can be an opportunity for all stakeholders to all work together to identify the systemic issues creating barriers and to work together to remove them.”

An EHRC spokesperson declined to provide further details about the project.
But she said: “We have spoken to a variety of stakeholders and taken their comments on board. We will be releasing more details about the project soon.”

12 September 2019

Special school numbers swell, 10 years after Tories’ ‘end the bias’ election pledge

The needs of many disabled pupils in England are not being met, while councils are under growing financial pressure because more children are attending special schools, parliament’s spending watchdog has warned.
The report from the National Audit Office (NAO) says the number of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) who attend special schools or alternative provision rose by more than a fifth between 2014 and 2018.

It comes after nine years of policies from Conservative-led governments that have been aimed at educating more of the 1.3 million pupils in England with SEND in segregated special schools.

Those policies have followed the party’s 2010 general election manifesto (PDF), which pledged to “end the bias towards the inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools”.

The report from NAO yesterday (Wednesday) warns that, although the Department for Education (DfE) has increased school funding, particularly for pupils with high needs, this has not kept pace with the rise in the number of pupils, while local authorities are “increasingly overspending their budgets for supporting pupils with high needs”.

It adds: “The main reason why local authorities have overspent their high-needs budgets is that more pupils are attending special schools.”

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

At the same time, local authorities have “sharply” increased the amount they spend on independent special schools, with a real terms increase of nearly a third (32.4 per cent) between 2013-14 and 2017-18.

NAO says there are concerns that demand for special school places is growing because “the system incentivises mainstream primary and secondary schools to be less inclusive”, with mainstream schools expected to cover the first £6,000 of support for a child with SEND from their existing budgets.

Schools with high numbers of children with SEND may also appear to be performing less well academically in government performance tables.

About one-fifth of pupils with SEND have education, health and care (EHC) plans, which give them legally enforceable entitlements to support, with the other four-fifths identified as needing a lower level of SEN support at school.

The report says NAO is concerned that many pupils with SEND “are not being supported effectively, and that pupils with SEND who do not have EHC plans are particularly exposed”.

The report also points out that pupils with SEND – particularly those without EHC plans – are more likely to be permanently excluded from school than pupils without SEND.

In 2017-18, children with SEND made up 45 per cent of permanent exclusions, while survey evidence in 2019 suggested that pupils with SEND are more likely to experience off-rolling – in which mainstream schools force pupils off their books to boost their academic results – than other children.

Among its recommendations, the NAO report says the government should make changes to “encourage and support mainstream schools to be more inclusive in terms of admitting, retaining and meeting the needs of pupils with SEND”.

And it says DfE should share good practice on how mainstream schools can meet the needs of pupils with SEND who do not have EHC plans.

It also calls on DfE to assess how much it would cost to ensure proper funding of the system for supporting pupils with SEND created by the 2014 reforms that introduced EHCPs.

Last week, education secretary Gavin Williamson announced a review of support for children with SEND.

But NAO made it clear to Disability News Service yesterday that DfE had seen an early draft of its report in late July. This suggests Williamson’s decision to launch a review was heavily influenced by NAO’s concerns.

Simone Aspis, policy and campaigns coordinator for The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said: “ALLFIE welcomes the NAO’s conclusion that the current SEND funding system is financially unsustainable as a result of increased spending on segregated education provision that often leaves disabled pupils with poor outcomes, and recommends that government invest in mainstream education and removes the funding bias away from segregated education.”

She said this supported the recommendations of the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) that the UK government should invest in a fully inclusive education system, as required under its obligations in article 24 of the UN disability convention.

She said: “The DfE have announced another SEND review. We see all these reviews as a distraction from the government’s total disregard for the continuing systematic attack on disabled pupils’ and students’ human rights to inclusive education.

“We do not need any more reviews. We need action now.”

What was needed, she said, was for the government to implement CRPD’s recommendations around removing the current “parallel education system and have one sustainable inclusive education service that includes everyone regardless of ability”.

A DfE spokesperson said yesterday that the department was not able to respond within the deadline set by DNS to questions about the report, including whether successive Tory-led governments were to blame for the rise in the number of pupils in special schools because of the “end the bias” pledge by the Conservatives in 2010.

But she said in a statement: “Helping all children and young people reach their potential is one of the core aims of this government, including those with special educational needs.

“That is why the prime minister has committed to providing an extra £700 million next year to make sure these children get an education that helps them develop and thrive as adults.

“We have improved special educational needs support to put families at the heart of the system and give them better choice in their children’s education, whether in mainstream or special school.

“Last week we launched a review of these reforms, to make sure every child, everywhere, gets an education that prepares them for success.”

12 September 2019

Charity campaigning for autistic inclusion faces autistic ex-staffer in tribunal

A disability charity which campaigns for an end to the hostility faced by autistic people in the workplace has this week been defending its actions in an employment tribunal, following allegations made by an autistic former employee.

Dave Gregson worked as a support worker for United Response in Yorkshire for more than seven years before he was dismissed.

He claims he lost the job because the charity believed his autism meant he could not carry out his duties.

In May, just a day after an employment tribunal concluded the preliminary hearing in his case, United Response launched its new Am I Your Problem? campaign, which aimed to challenge the “indifference, hidden discrimination and sometimes outright hostility faced by people with a learning disability or autism”, including in the workplace.

The charity is calling on the public in its campaign to “seriously consider how their interaction and behaviour can harm people with learning disabilities or autism, dent their confidence and at worst completely ostracise them from society”.

Tim Cooper, United Response’s chief executive, said in launching the campaign that “hidden discrimination” was taking place in businesses, workplaces and schools, and he called on non-disabled people to “become the solution, not the problem” and help create “a society which is open to all and gives everyone a fair chance in all walks of life”.

Gregson is now himself claiming disability discrimination, victimisation, sex discrimination and unfair dismissal by United Response.

As well as launching its own anti-discrimination campaign, United Response has also signed up as a “Disability Confident employer” under the government’s much-criticised disability employment scheme.

Last year, United Response was heavily criticised for choosing the head of a company closely linked with the government’s hated “fitness for work” test as its new chair.

Gregson was absent from work for 17 months from July 2017, firstly under suspension and gardening leave, following a dispute with a colleague in which he was eventually cleared of any misconduct.

Gregson says that an occupational health doctor, his mental health team and a consultant psychiatrist all said it would be better if he returned to work.

But United Response concluded that he was not able to return to work and dismissed him.

Among the issues the tribunal has been deciding this week is whether United Response made “stereotypical” assumptions about the impact of Gregson’s autism on his work, and whether it treated him less favourably than it would have treated someone who was not autistic.

A United Response spokesperson declined to comment while the tribunal was ongoing.

12 September 2019

 

DWP advisers demand ‘urgent action’ on UC claimant commitment health demands

The government’s own social security advisers have called for “urgent” action to stop jobcentre staff forcing claimants of universal credit (UC) to take medication or attend medical appointments in return for receiving their benefits.

The social security advisory committee (SSAC) included the “particularly concerning finding” in a new report about the effectiveness of the government’s universal credit claimant commitment.

The claimant commitment is a set of “individually tailored requirements” that a benefit claimant agrees to meet in return for UC payments, and it can include a pledge to carry out a certain number of hours looking for and applying for jobs, networking, updating a CV, or attending training.

It is supposed to be DWP policy that only work-related activities are included in the claimant commitment, but SSAC said it was “clear that this is not happening in all cases”.

The report says some of the random sample of claimant commitments the committee saw included activities relating to the claimant’s management or treatment of a health condition, including commitments “outlining that medical appointments should be attended, or that medication should be taken”.

The report says claimants are left confused as to whether medical-related activities in their claimant commitment are mandatory or voluntary.

The committee says DWP should “urgently act to ensure requirements placed on claimant commitments are just work-related and do not inappropriately include requirements related to a claimant’s health or medicine”, which “can cause real harm to claimants”.

The SSAC report was published as the prime minister appointed Therese Coffey – who was previously a minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – to be the new work and pensions secretary, following Amber Rudd’s resignation over the government’s Brexit policy.

Coffey becomes the seventh work and pensions secretary in less than four years.

SSAC says in this week’s report that claimant commitments are often not tailored effectively to the individual, with claimants with physical and mental health impairments “less likely than other claimants to feel that their commitment reflected their circumstances”.

Some claimants with mental health problems find interacting with work coaches very stressful, says the committee, with one claimant saying that they just accept the commitment to enable them to “get away as quickly as possible”.
The committee also says that some people with learning difficulties may struggle to understand their claimant commitment and what they have agreed to do.

Work coaches are legally required to make reasonable adjustments for disabled claimants under the Equality Act, which could include varying the type of work they should look for and accept.

The committee says the claimant commitment is an “intrinsic” part of universal credit.

But it raises concerns in the report about how the commitment is being used and says there is a “real risk” that it could be having a “detrimental impact” on some claimants, particularly those in vulnerable circumstances.

The committee says that its findings show that work coaches “are trying their best to develop effective commitments, in what can be very challenging circumstances”, while there are “excellent examples of work coaches defining tailored requirements for claimants, including claimants with complex circumstances”.

But the committee’s interim chair, Liz Sayce, former chief executive of Disability Rights UK, says in the report that it is impossible to identify the “true scale” of the problems with the claimant commitment because DWP does not collect the right data.

Sayce said: “The claimant commitment is a central part of the government’s approach to helping people back into work.

“But the committee’s work has shown that improvements need to be made.

“Inappropriate conditions and ineffective support risks failing some benefit claimants and their families, and in some cases may cause harm.

“Getting this policy right, all the way across the country, is essential.

“DWP needs to do more, more quickly, to ensure that happens.”

In its response to the report, DWP welcomed the committee’s work.

It said that conditionality had been “a feature of benefit entitlement in the UK since the formation of the welfare state” and that the claimant commitment was “a key part of conditionality”.

It said: “As part of the continuous development and improvement of the universal credit claimant commitment a number of improvements suggested by the committee have already been introduced.”

It said further improvements were planned for this year and next year and it would carry out “additional work” based on the committee’s findings as part of this programme.

It said it would respond to the report’s recommendations this autumn after giving them “full consideration”.

 

 

DPO says plan for co-operation with two charities is not ‘precursor to a merger’

One of the country’s oldest disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) has stressed that plans for closer co-operation with two other disability charities do not mean that they are moving towards a merger.

The Spinal Injuries Association (SIA) was founded in 1974 by the disabled crossbench peer Baroness Masham, and it played a key role in the growth of the disabled people’s movement, and in the formation of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People.

It also played a significant part in many influential campaigns during the 1980s and 1990s, for example pushing for the introduction of direct payments and for disability discrimination legislation.

SIA has now announced that it has signed a joint commitment with spinal cord injury charities Back Up and Aspire to work more closely together.

Although Back Up does not describe itself as a DPO, more than half of its trustees have a spinal cord injury, as do many of its services team, while it was also founded by someone with a spinal cord injury, Mike Nemesvary.

But Back Up describes itself as a peer-led organisation, rather than a DPO, while Aspire is also not a DPO.
The three charities say they are now committed to “coordinate their efforts” and “build a powerful and unified voice” for the more than 50,000 spinal cord injured (SCI) people across the UK.

And they say they will launch a “national conversation” this autumn, and will use the findings to “establish how they can combine their individual strengths and resources to deliver services and champion the rights of spinal cord injured people”.

Dave Bracher, SIA’s campaigns manager, said the announcement “isn’t a precursor to a merger” but was “all about the charities working better together to present a unified voice and delivering better outcomes for SCI people”.
He added: “Although the charities already work well together through some frontline services, it’s recognised this can be improved to maximise overall delivery and impact.”

Back Up also said there were no plans for a merger.

Its chief executive, Sarah Bryan, said the proposals were about working more closely together and ensuring the three organisations offered complementary services “rather than doing things that the others are doing”, as well as providing “more of a voice for people affected by spinal cord injury”.

She said Back Up had been working in partnership with Aspire for about three years and they were now bringing SIA into that partnership.

Bryan stressed that this was not a “first step” towards a merger and that Back Up had not discussed such an idea with the other two organisations, although she said she would not rule out a merger in 10 years’ time.

An Aspire spokesperson said: “There has definitely been no talk of a merger and there are no planned talks.”

The chairs of the three charities had earlier commented on their plans in a statement.
Dr Rupert Earl, SIA’s chair, said: “The opportunity for an independent life for every person paralysed by a spinal cord injury is under threat.

 

“As someone who has also lived with tetraplegia most of my adult working life, I am appalled that our rehabilitation and care services are increasingly failing to provide adequately for the very reasonable needs of SCI people.
“SIA’s commitment to work together with Back Up and Aspire, and campaign for all people affected by a spinal cord injury, is absolutely the right thing to do.”

Dr Saroj Patel, chair of Aspire, said: “I am delighted that Aspire is committing to working with SIA and Back Up to deliver joined up support for spinal cord injured people in their quest to live independent lives.

“Together we can maximise the individual strengths of each organisation to develop and grow vital services for our stakeholders.”

And Jo Wright, chair of Back Up, said: “Charities that work together operate more efficiently, deliver better services and save money.

“Our stakeholders are keen for us to collaborate to ensure that we respond more effectively to the needs of people affected by SCI, and today starts our shared journey towards that end.’’

12 September 2019

 

MPs call for overdue government action to ban pavement parking

A committee of MPs has called on the government to ban parking on pavements, after hearing how the practice was putting disabled people all over the country in stressful, inconvenient and even dangerous situations.

The Commons transport committee says in a new report that pavement parking affects disabled people who are visually-impaired, use mobility aids or are neurodiverse.

It can reduce the useable width of the pavement, and make it impossible for those using mobility aids to pass by the vehicle, while users of guide dogs can be forced into the road.

But pavement parking can also add to people’s anxiety because of the lack of predictability, particularly for those who are visually-impaired, the report says.

The committee says it is “profoundly regrettable” that the government has taken so long to take action, and criticises the lack of “concrete actions” to tackle pavement parking and “improve people’s daily lives”.

A string of disabled people told the committee during the inquiry that the impact of the growing issue of pavement parking ranged from being “inconvenient to downright dangerous”.

Vehicles parked on pavements can block wheelchair-users, forcing them into the road or to retrace their route.

One wheelchair- and mobility scooter-user told the committee: “To avoid a vehicle often means entering the highway. This may put me in danger from other road users and this solution is far from practical.

“I have to drop down a kerb and then try and remount the pavement after the vehicle. Sometimes this causes additional stress and complications for me.

“A single vehicle is very annoying but when there are several vehicles to negotiate, I find myself staying in the road for prolonged periods of time.

“Whilst my scooter has lights, my wheelchair is not designed for road use. I am very vulnerable when on the road.”
Another wheelchair-user told the committee: “I stay home a lot because the amount of times I’ve got stuck, or had my partner ‘bounce’ my wheelchair down kerbs because of cars parked on the path makes any journey difficult or longer.

“Turning a corner, seeing a car parked on the path, and no dropped kerb is worrying.

“Sometimes paths are wide enough to turn around. Doubling back to find a safe place to cross the road and a dropped kerb is both tiresome and annoying.”

A third wheelchair-user calling for action on pavement parking told the committee: “One morning with a traffic officer and a book of tickets would result in 50+ at least unsafe parked vehicles between my house and the local shops.”

The committee’s report calls on the government to introduce a nationwide ban on pavement parking – apart from in London, where it is already banned – with enforcement by local authorities, which would be able to introduce exemptions.

Among the report’s other recommendations, the committee calls for a national awareness campaign to show the negative consequences of pavement parking for pedestrians such as disabled people, older people and children.

Campaigners have been pushing for government action since at least 2015, when a private member’s bill by Conservative MP Simon Hoare was withdrawn after a government minister promised to hold a roundtable meeting to examine the issue.

In London, local authorities or Transport for London can introduce exemptions to a ban that has been in place since 1974.

The transport (Scotland) bill, which is currently going through the Scottish parliament, includes a clause that would ban pavement parking across Scotland, which again would allow exemptions.

The legal position with pavement parking in Wales is unclear, says the committee’s report.

Sue Bott, head of policy and research at Disability Rights UK, said: “Disability Rights UK welcomes this report from the transport select committee.

“Parking on pavements creates obstacles for many disabled people trying to get on with our everyday lives.

“To add insult to injury, often pavement parking also blocks the down curb.

“It’s time this anti-social behaviour was tackled.”

Lilian Greenwood, chair of the committee, said: “We are deeply concerned that the government has failed to act on this issue, despite long-standing promises to do so.

“This is a thorny problem that may be difficult to resolve to the satisfaction of all, but the government’s inaction has left communities blighted by unsightly and obstructive pavement parking and individuals afraid or unable to leave their homes or safely navigate the streets.

“In the long-term we believe the government should ban pavement parking across England – as is already the case in London.

“Local authorities could create exemptions if they choose to do so, but drivers would know that unless it was expressly permitted it was illegal to park their car on the pavement.

“We recognise that implementing a nationwide ban will take time. In the short-term we have said that the government should make it easier for local authorities to put in place parking restrictions by removing some of the bureaucratic burdens they currently have to contend with.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) carried out a review of pavement parking last year and is now considering its findings.

The committee’s report will inform that process, as will the changes included in the Scottish parliament’s bill.
A DfT spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring that our roads work for everyone, but we are also aware that pavement parking can cause real problems for a variety of road users.

“The department recently concluded a review to better understand the case for changing the law, and ministers will be considering our next steps over the coming months.”

12 September 2019

 

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:29
Sep 102019
 


In her foreword, to this book Dr Jenny Morris says:
“At a time when as Judy Hunt writes: ‘disabled people are finding many of the gains of the 1980s and 1990s being eroded’, this book is a timely reminder of where these gains came from. It is an important book, based on the experiences of someone who was there at the beginning of the struggle amongst disabled people in residential care to
have control over their lives, which gave birth to the movement for independent living.”

Based on her lifetime of campaigning along with disabled people, working in various community services, and years of dedicated research, Judy Hunt’s book will become a standard text for the disabled people’s movement for years to
come. This is more than a history book for it aims to contribute to the ongoing struggle disabled people now face to maintain some control of their lives and also caring professionals seeking to provide enlightened support in the
community. In the face of severe austerity measures this book will give greater understanding of what can be achieved by collective effort and a clear sense of direction.

The book is available as a paperback 260 pp
£19.99 – Non-fiction
ISBN 9781913148027
From: huntlimits40@gmail.com
It is also available in various formats as a PDF in 12pt and 18 pt and an audio
version, freely downloadable from https://www.gmcdp.com/no-limits.
TBR Imprint

 Posted by at 20:07
Sep 072019
 

[Text from Taxpayers Against Poverty with thanks]

General election manifestos must address homelessness and hunger & the powerlessness of homeless families.

1. GENERAL ELECTION MANIFESTOS MUST ADDRESS HOMELESSNESS AND HUNGER. 

The 2012 and 2016 Welfare Reform Acts were seen through Parliament by government ministers who sought to force the unemployed into work by imposing inadequate incomes and punitive laws designed to treat them as if they are at work.

Examples are:

  • a monthly rather than a weekly income;
  • housing benefit paid to the unemployed from which they pay the rent to the landlord as if it were from a monthly pay cheque; and
  • strict rules about keeping appointments at the job centre.

The purpose was to “change the culture” of unemployment, on the mistaken assumption that the unemployed lived an easy life on benefits so were unlikely to look for work, hence the cruel benefit sanction on those who “broke the rules”.

Lord Freud  on the Welfare Reform Bill 2016. Hansard Column 1427, 19 October 2016:

Every year I stand here because there is a forecast that says that child poverty is going up, has gone up or will go up, but when we actually see the figures, we find that child poverty has actually gone down. When you transform the economy, change the culture so that work is what has been driving things, and move up the employment rates and the earning rates in the way that we have, you find that the behavioural impacts are very different from the static analysis that many of the external experts tell us about.”

Lord Freud could not have been more wrong. Child poverty is going up and getting worse. 

Attempts by cross-bench peers to insert amendments requiring a health-impact assessment of the government’s policies were rejected. The actual and disastrous impact on the health of low-income families and individuals can be found on the Taxpayers Against Poverty website.

UK land grabbed by the rich for private gain

London councils have published analysis showing that there has been a significant reduction of about 200,000 in the number of homes that are affordable for tenants receiving the Local Housing Allowance. That is one among a number causes of the escalating homelessness and hunger in the capital.

The 1980s’ “big bang” set up the UK housing market to make large landowners very rich indeed, with unearned and untaxed increases in the value of their land. Lending was deregulated, rent controls abolished and funds allowed to flow in and out of the limited amount of British land. Small businesses and family homes, which pay rent, business rates and/or council tax, and own no land, are treated little better than during the 15th– and 16th-century enclosures.

Tenants are being pushed off the land with no solutions on the political table to reverse the trend.

In Haringey, 3,000 homeless families, with 5,208 children between them, have been forced into temporary accommodation, some for up to and over 10 years. Accirding to the House of Commons Library there are 83,700 homless families in temporary accommodation in England with 124,000 children, up 74% sine 2010. 56,880 of the families are in London. Too many of them are in one room in hostels or other acommodation when none ought to be

Graph from IPPR

Taxpayers Against Poverty strongly recommends that the Greater London Authority and Parliament adopt two policies used by the Danish government:

  • Long-term vacancy of properties is discouraged in Denmark. If an owner moves and does not wish to sell the property, it must be rented out or advertised for sale. If it is empty for more than six weeks, the owner must report to the local authority, which then seeks to provide tenants, whom the owner has to accept.
  • Non-residents of Denmark who have not lived in the country for a total period of five years previously may only acquire property after receiving permission from the Ministry of Justice.

Income support for a single adult has been losing value since 1979

There is a community of about 11,000 social-security claimants in Haringey. The shredding of their social security incomes since 2010 has been piled on top of decades of adult benefit negligence. The evidence came from Professor Jonathan Bradshaw in 2009  responding to one of mine. In April 2011, austerity measures were then piled onto an already inadequate cornerstone of the benefit system. To that cornerstone are added disabled people’s, children’s, housing and council-tax benefits.

“When unemployment benefit started in 1912, it was 7 shillings a week – about 22% of average male earnings in manufacturing. The percentage fluctuated over the succeeding decades, but by 1979, the benefit rate was still about 21% of average earnings (manual and non-manual, male and female). By 2008, however, as a result of the policy of tying benefits to the price index while real earnings increased, the renamed Jobseeker’s Allowance had fallen to an all-time low of 10.5% of average earnings.”

Benefit increases were frozen at 1% a year in April 2011. £73.10 a week Jobseekers’ Allowance equates to £317 a month Universal Credit. Using the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s minimum-income standards for single-adult benefits after rent and council tax as of April 2019, we can see that Jobseekers’ Allowance and Universal Credit are nearly £32 a week too low for healthy living.

And that is before 

  • the five-week delay in the first payment of Universal Credit;
  • the Department for Work and Pensions “budgeting advance” to cover that delay, which is a loan that has to be repaid out of 73.10 a week;
  • the cuts in council tax and housing benefits, which mean rent and council tax must also be paid out of that £73.10 a week;
  • income is stopped by benefit sanctions, during which rent, council tax and TV-licence arrears and other debts pile up; adding to the impossibility of living on benefits;
  • the realisation – often only belatedly at the job centre – by a parent who has a third child that the government’s two-child policy means they will be refused child benefit for their latest offspring.

The hopelessly inadequate single adult benefit cannot maintain a healthy adult life, let alone pay rent or council tax, or their enforcement costs. That is a cruel catch 22. If your children’s benefits pay the rent, they are hungry, naked or cold; if you feed, clothe growing children or keep them warm, then the family is evicted and homeless.

Councils force low income tenants into the private sector and their rent over the benefit cap. 

In the United Kingdom, local authority officers and benefit claimants are both the victims of toxic and disconnected central government policies. Policies that combine to escalate the number of homeless and hungry families. The benefits freeze is bad enough (Benefits freeze leaves a third of claimants ‘with £100 to live on a month’), but, in 2012, the government introduced another measure that is particularly hard on London families. It allows local-authority housing departments to offer homeless families in temporary council housing at £90 a week rent a move into permanent private-sector housing at £300 a week rent for a two-bed home, for example (see table).

Families must accept the council’s first offer or they are deemed intentionally homeless and struck off the list of those the council has a duty to house. The unintended consequence of the 2012 measure is that a family’s total benefit income, including housing benefit, can be forced over the London benefit cap of £442.31 by high private-sector rent. The government cuts the housing benefit to enforce the cap on the total benefit income. Thar leaves rent to be paid by the family’s remaining benefits They have been frozen and are already short of £100 a month to live on. Hunger and homelessness are inevitable.

UK is the only nation in the world requiring renters to pay the landlord’s property tax.

The UK being the only nation in the world requiring renters to pay the landlord’s property tax adds the straw that breaks the camels back. That is a great injustice. The council tax is a property tax based on 1991 evaluations after the poll tax was abolished and the council tax introduced.

There is a tenant of my acquaintance who lives in a private two-bed terraced house in Tottenham that was bought new for £95,000 in 1999. An identical property next door, also new in 1999, is on the market for £425,000. The landlord is £330,000 richer, unearned and untaxed, while the tenant has paid about £1,000 a year in property/council tax for 20 years, so is £20,000 poorer.

290 out of 326 English councils require benefit claimants to pay a proportion of their landlord’s council tax. It is enforced by the magistrate’s court, adding the council’s enforcement costs to the arrears and the bailiffs adding their fees. Taxing £73.10 a week income support/Jobseekers’ Allowance/Universal Credit is a pernicious injustice.

The good health and wellbeing of all UK citizens in or out of work must now become a national priority.

2. An inhuman treatment of powerless tenants. 

TAP is opposing in the implementation of the project at High Road West. We so firmly believe it is against the best interests of the low income residents of Tottenham. After the secure tenants were moved out, the current tenants of Love Lane Estate have been moved in by Haringey Counci. Because they are homeless families in temporary accommodation they have no relevant housing rights and can be moved out more easily before demolition. An inhuman treatment of powerless tenants.

Some of these 180 young families have been in temporary accommodation for up and over ten years. They have already been forced to moved several times so disrupting the education of their growing children. They are among 3000 homeless families in temporary accommodation in Haringey. Too many of them are in one room in hostels or other accommodation –  when none ought to be.

The way the High Road West project has been designed does not commit the council to using 100% of the site for meeting part of a target of providing the 3000 much needed secure homes for the homeless.  What is proposed is the convoluted process of allowing Lend Lease to build on land which is free to the council and then sell “affordable” homes back to the council for £68,000 each. That enables Lend Lease to make the largest profit possible by selling the remaining and the majority if the homes into the very expensive London housing market.

The best way to build truly affordable homes for rent is for the council keep their public land out of the market, borrow the money and hire Lend Lease to build them.

It is a matter of public interest that we all know the terms of the  out of court settlement bewteen lendlease and the council, particularly whether it involved Northumberland Park, another council estate eyed by international property devopers for similar treatment.

Another shocking aspect of the High Road West project is the intention to grab the land from under 50 small thriving businesses of the Peacock Industrial Estate. Their businesses, which are employing local people, will be severely disrupted – to create a park!

The current national housing policy is ideologically designed to prevent the building of council homes on council land.

To do so is not socialism. It is simply an intelligent way of building truly affordable housing which has been used by all political parties in power since WWII. Also the capacity of the poorest tenants to pay even the lowest rents in London has been severely undermined by the shredding of houisng benefit and other social security payments. (See above)

Now is not the time to build social housing at council house rents. It would be better to leave it until after the next election which will have to change national housing and social security policies for the better and , it is ardently hoped. for the better use of public and private land for the common good.

For the time being the council ought to stop pushing powerless homeless families in temporary accommodation from pillar to post. The council can leave them where they are – even declare them all permanently housed.

National housing and social security policies have to change  to meet the needs of low income tenants.

Taxpayers Against Poverty

A VOICE FOR THE COMPASSIONATE MAJORITY

No citizen without an affordable home and an

adequate income in work or unemployment.

Supported by TAP RESOURCES INDEX on our website 

 Posted by at 15:46
Sep 052019
 

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

Will new ‘serious case panel’ probe benefit-related deaths? DWP stays silent

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) appears to have secured funding to set up an independent panel to examine cases where its own failings have led to the deaths of benefit claimants.

Although DWP refused to provide any details on the plans, the spending round document published by the Treasury yesterday (Wednesday) said the new “independent serious case panel” would aim to improve DWP “safeguarding”.

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

The funding for improving benefit applications processes is likely to refer to plans by work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd to introduce an “integrated” service for personal independence payment and work capability assessments from 2021, which will reduce the need to submit information multiple times for different benefit claims.

DWP yesterday (Wednesday) refused to explain why it was setting up the new serious case panel, or to provide any clarity on the other spending round announcements.

Instead, a DWP spokesperson said: “We will be announcing further detail on this in due course.”

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

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

Disability News Service (DNS) has also spent more than five years highlighting DWP’s safeguarding failings.

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

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

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

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

The spending round document also announced another £23 million for DWP, to fund a range of measures including “support for vulnerable claimants and people with complex needs migrating to Universal Credit”, although again DWP refused to provide any further details.

Meanwhile, chancellor Sajid Javid’s speech announcing his new spending round failed to mention disabled people, just as his predecessor Philip Hammond failed to do in his spring statement in March.

The spending round, which Javid said signified an end to austerity, provided an extra £1 billion for adult and children’s social care in 2020-21, as well as the possibility of another £500 million for adult social care to be raised by councils through council tax, although this extra £0.5 billion funding will be subject to a consultation.

But in his speech, Javid became the latest government minister to ignore the social care needs of working-age disabled people, telling MPs instead that he was “committed to a clear plan to fix social care, and give every older person the dignity and security they deserve”.

About half of local authority spending on social care is on working-age adults.

The government again failed to say when it would publish its long-delayed plans for reform of adult social care funding, other than that it would “bring forward proposals in due course”.

Respond to the extra funding for social care, Sue Bott, head of policy and research at Disability Rights UK, said: “Accepting that the government is facing a few difficulties just now, even so is this the best they can do?

Thousands of disabled people’s lives and aspirations are being blighted by inadequate support and to make matters worse, disabled people are having to pay more for social care that is failing to meet their needs.”

The spending round also included an extra £700 million for next year – an increase of 11 per cent on 2018-19 – for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

Only two months ago, disabled campaigners spoke outside the high court of the “shocking” and “shameful” impact of the government’s austerity policies on the education of disabled children.

They were supporting three families with disabled children who were asking the high court to declare that the government acted unlawfully by failing to provide enough funding for local authorities to meet their legal obligations to educate children with SEND.

5 September 2019

 

 

Concerns grow over police force that shares info on protesters with DWP

Grave concerns have been raised about what appear to be “discriminatory” and “pernicious” actions by a police force that has admitted passing information about disabled protesters to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Campaigners, including the human rights organisation Liberty, are concerned that Greater Manchester Police (GMP) does not appear to have any guidance in place to explain to its officers when they can lawfully hand such information to DWP.

As a result, they fear that GMP – and probably other police forces – may have indiscriminately passed information to DWP about disabled activists, after assuming they must be committing benefit fraud if they can take part in protests.

Liberty fears this could have a “chilling effect on disabled people’s protest rights”.

GMP has now told Disability News Service (DNS) – through a response to a freedom of information (Foi) request – that a review of its records “indicates” that the force passed information about the activities of disabled anti-fracking protesters to DWP.

The force has also said that the amount of information it passed to DWP “is unknown at this stage” because of the number of anti-fracking protests that took place within Greater Manchester.

This is likely to refer to protests that took place in Barton Moss, Salford, in 2013 and 2014.

GMP said in the FoI response that this information was passed to DWP so the department could “assess and then investigate and determine if criminal offences had occurred in relation to benefit claims”.

The force said this morning that information had been shared under successive Data Protection Acts, but it has so far refused to say if it has any guidance that explains to officers under what circumstances such information can lawfully be passed to DWP.

If it has no such guidance, its actions are likely to have been unlawful, say human rights experts from Liberty.

Members of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (MDPAC) are among those who have taken part in anti-austerity protests in Manchester over the last six years.

Rick Burgess, from MDPAC, said: “We need clarity on the law and procedures so we know where we stand.”

Otherwise, he warned, protesters would have to rely on interpretation of the law by frontline officers which was – when combined with police and wider societal attitudes towards disability and so-called “scroungers and fakers” – “a not good mix”.

He said: “This is a toxic atmosphere, a hostile environment, so there needs to be transparency.”

He said it was also crucial to know what level of disability equality training had been given to officers making these decisions.

Burgess pointed out that there was less protection from the law when a disabled person was dealing with DWP than with the police, and that “the police cannot sentence you to no income and losing your home, but the DWP can, with very little due process”.

He said: “The authorities have to realise that unless they are explicit and transparent, it is not unreasonable to think that very ‘surveilling’ practices are going on.

Experience has told us that that tends to be their default position.”

Sam Grant, Liberty’s policy and campaigns manager, added: “Anything that limits an individual’s right to protest is a dangerous step that has implications for all our rights.

If the police and Department for Work and Pensions are freely sharing information between themselves about disabled people who are doing nothing more than lawfully exercising their right to protest, this would be discriminatory, pernicious and breach their fundamental rights.

Clarity and reassurance is desperately needed to avoid a chilling effect on disabled people’s protest rights.

Everyone should feel free to uphold their rights without fear of retribution*.”

The FoI information from GMP is just the latest in a series of conflicting statements to come from the force since it first admitted in February that it had passed information about anti-fracking protesters to DWP.

GMP has now finally released a multi-agency “information sharing agreement”, signed by the force and DWP, as well as other organisations in Salford, including the probation service, NHS bodies and Salford council.

DNS had asked for a copy of the agreement the force relied on to share information about protesters with DWP.

But the agreement released to DNS focuses instead on safeguarding children and vulnerable people, and the force said that any information passed to DWP was not “likely” to have been shared under this document but in accordance with the Data Protection Act (DPA).

If there was no associated guidance or policy on such sharing of information under DPA, this is likely to have been unlawful, Liberty has warned.

The FoI release contrasts with a previous statement from the GMP press office, which said that information about protesters was passed to DWP “as part of a sharing agreement”, although it later denied the existence of such an agreement.

Greater Manchester Police has previously admitted sharing information with DWP from protests not connected with fracking, although it is still not clear how much information has been shared and which protests and how many disabled protesters were involved.

It has also previously insisted that it had not shared any information with DWP about disabled activists who took part in the anti-austerity protests that took place outside the Conservative party conferences in Manchester in 2015 and 2017.

The Conservative party is returning to Manchester for its annual conference later this month.

GMP had refused by 1pm today (Thursday) to say if it had any written guidance to explain to its officers when information about disabled protesters can and should be shared with DWP, and refused to explain how it justified this lack of guidance if there was no such document.

But the force said in a statement: “The police service shares data with other agencies in accordance with relevant statutory frameworks where there is public interest.

This was previously done under section 29 of the Data Protection Act 1998, which provided a legal platform for disclosure of data on the basis of law enforcement.

This act was rescinded on 25 May 2018 and replaced by the [European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation] and the Law Enforcement Directive, both incorporated into the Data Protection Act 2018, from which the police now derive a lawful basis for disclosure which is considered on a case by case basis.

The sharing of data is not done with the intention of preventing an individual’s right to peaceful protest.

In fact the police service would give due regard to an individual’s human rights as well as the Equality Act 2010 when considering action it takes.”

*Anyone concerned or affected by these issues can contact Liberty’s advice and information service

5 September 2019

 

 

Trio of disabled peers pledge to fight off no-deal Brexit ‘time bomb’

Three disabled peers have pledged to do all they can to avert the significant impact on disabled people of a no-deal Brexit, with one warning of a “time bomb” that is now likely to “detonate”.

They spoke out this week as MPs and peers returned from their summer recess, facing the threat of the UK being forced to leave the European Union (EU) without an agreement at the end of next month.

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson told Disability News Service (DNS) last night (Wednesday) from the House of Lords that a no-deal Brexit would be “disastrous” for disabled people.

She said: “I will do everything I can to avoid it.”

She said she was “completely against a no-deal Brexit” but was unclear about what action she would take.

She said: “The action I’m likely to take is more likely to be in the chamber rather than outside and I’m just trying to get through each vote and plan around that. 

It’s unprecedented times in so many ways. We are going through procedures and debates that I’ve not really seen in the chamber before.

I spent a lot of the summer trying to plan through all the possible scenarios and I’m not sure all the time I spent moved me any further on.  

At the moment it seems that things are changing by the minute at times.” 

Baroness Grey-Thompson said it felt as though the impact on disabled people of a no-deal Brexit had “been forgotten and will be ignored”.

But she also expressed concern at the feverish political atmosphere, both within and outside parliament.

She said: “I worry about how angry everyone is on the outside. I don’t know how we heal some of those divisions.

The atmosphere around Westminster is also quite challenging. This week it’s been more aggressive than before. People are feeling angry (from all sides).”

Another disabled crossbench peer, Baroness [Jane] Campbell, also pledged to do all she could to avert a no-deal Brexit, even though she feared that it was now too late to do so.

She said: “In my view, it’s gone way beyond a surreal episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, to becoming an extremely worrying time-bomb about to detonate.

I’m very dubious whether we can prevent the explosion now. The next few days will be critical and that’s why you will find me [in the House of Lords] until I drop on Saturday.”

She warned that a no-deal Brexit would be “very bad news” for disabled people.

She said: “Disabled people will suffer from all that Brexit will mean for them, especially if we crash out without a deal.

Decreased protection from EU rights, shortage of vital medicines, a slowdown on vital medical research due to greater difficulty of UK/European data sharing, NHS and social care workforce shortages, affecting personal assistant recruitment and retention of EU workers, etc.”

She added: “For over two years now as I read and began participating in the detail of the EU withdrawal bill in the Lords, I have tried my hardest to amend and support amendments to secure disabled people’s equality and human rights, with very little success.

Withdrawing from the EU is bad enough with a deal, but without one it’s very bad news for us indeed.”

The Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas said a no-deal Brexit could cause “incalculable” damage, and she was another to pledge to do everything she could to stop such an outcome.

She said: “I have on many occasions in the House spoken of the despair I, and many disabled people, feel at the way invaluable European workers in the care sector, the health service and the hospitality industry are being treated, with the environment becoming quite hostile to them.

I was in hospital for two months 18 months ago and saw clearly how much we rely on European health workers in every sector.

And now there is the worry, in a no-deal Brexit scenario, if we need certain medicines – and many of us do – they may not be available quite soon.

Even if they are held up for a few days crossing a border, this could do incalculable damage to those who desperately need them.

So I will do everything I can to stop no-deal Brexit. This doesn’t mean speaking in the House at the moment, because speeches take time, and time is something we do not have.”

The disabled MP Stephen Lloyd, formerly a Liberal Democrat and now sitting as an independent, was another to “wholly oppose” a no-deal Brexit.

As with other disabled parliamentarians, he was unable to say what action he might be able to take over the next week because of the unpredictable nature of the events in Westminster, but he added: “I’ve always been clear I’ll never back a no-deal.”

Lloyd quit the Liberal Democrat group in the Commons last December so he could keep his promise to his constituents to respect the result of the EU referendum, and he voted three times for the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May that was rejected on each occasion by MPs.

He declined to say if he still believed that the UK should leave the EU, but he said: “I have kept my promise to my constituency by voting for the withdrawal agreement (three times) but I will never back a no-deal and have said so for the last two years.”

He added: “Crashing out of the EU with no deal serves no-one, least of all our country.

I also believe it would leave the UK so desperate to do a deal with President Donald Trump that our NHS will be up for grabs in any treaty with the US.

Trump is all about America First and our beloved health service with its £120 billion budget is something they will demand the ability to sell into.

And whatever this shambles of a government says, they won’t be in a position to push back.

This will have an impact on the cost of drugs which many disabled people need to lead independent lives.”

The disabled Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck, who resigned from her position as shadow minister for children and families in March after voting against a second referendum – when the party leadership told its MPs to abstain on the vote – was not available to comment this week.

The disabled Tory peer Lord [Kevin] Shinkwin failed to respond to a request to comment.

5 September 2019

 

 

Rail regulator backs down on access to replacement buses

The rail regulator has been forced by a disabled campaigner to reconsider its refusal to tell train companies to ensure their rail replacement buses are fully accessible.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) issued guidance to train and station operators in July on what they should include in their new accessible travel policies.

But accessible transport campaigner Doug Paulley pointed out that the regulator had failed to make it mandatory for train companies to provide accessible replacement buses when rail services are disrupted.

Paulley warned last year that he was considering taking legal action against a train company over the failure to ensure that its rail replacement buses were accessible.

He believes that such buses should comply with the Public Service Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 2000 (PSVAR).

But when he read ORR’s new guidance he realised that it fell short of a requirement that the buses should comply with PSVAR, stating only that companies should make “reasonable endeavours to secure accessible rail replacement services and taxis”.

Paulley contacted solicitors at Deighton Pierce Glynn (DPG), who sent a legal letter to the regulator.

The letter argued that the ORR guidance was unlawful, and it asked the regulator instead to require all train companies to ensure that all their rail replacement buses during planned and reasonably foreseeable disruption were fully accessible.

Last week, in response to the letter, ORR told DPG and Paulley that it would rethink this section of the guidance.

ORR now plans to ask train companies to provide data on the accessibility of the buses and coaches they have used in the last year, said DPG.

It is also seeking its own legal advice on whether PSVAR applies to rail replacement buses.

And it plans to publish another consultation exercise on this issue by the end of next month.

Contacted by Disability News Service (DNS), ORR confirmed the new consultation, but refused to confirm that it was seeking legal advice and data on the accessibility of rail replacement buses.

It also refused to say why it had ordered a new consultation.

The ORR guidance came despite recommendations from both the Department for Transport (DfT) and its accessible transport advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee – in their responses to a consultation on ORR’s draft guidance – that it should be mandatory for rail replacement buses to be accessible when disruption “is planned or reasonably foreseeable”.

DfT refused to say if it shared Paulley’s concerns about the legality of the ORR guidance.

Paulley told DNS that it was “reprehensible” and “closed-minded” that ORR had still not mandated accessible rail replacement buses when he had been “banging on on this issue for years”.

But he said: “I am delighted that ORR has agreed to take this step.

Inaccessible rail replacement buses form a significant barrier for disabled people, causing further disruption and distress.

Alternative accessible transport in the form of accessible taxis appears an attractive alternative but isn’t.

They aren’t spontaneous, reliable, comfortable or sometimes even safe, and their segregated provision is problematic.

I very much hope the ORR’s re-examination will lead to better access for disabled people during disruption.”

DPG’s Louise Whitfield, representing Paulley, said: “We are very pleased that the ORR has taken our client’s concerns seriously in the light of our representations.

This is a very important issue about equality and access to train services, that cannot be underestimated.

Given the clear legal position on the relevant regulations, we cannot see how the ORR can reasonably conclude that rail replacement buses need not be accessible.”

5 September 2019

 

 

DWP admits it has no idea how many of its disability champions are disabled people

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted that it has no idea how many of its 19 “disability champions” are disabled people.

The disability sector champions – covering areas such as banking, gaming, arts and culture, media, music and retail – are supposed to drive progress in breaking down barriers and promoting inclusion.

At least three of the 19 are known to be disabled people – rail champion Stephen Brookes, music champion Suzanne Bull and hotels champion Robin Sheppard – but it appears that many others are not.

Now, in response to a freedom of information request from disabled researcher and activist Ellen Clifford, DWP has admitted that it does not know how many of the 19 sector champions identify as disabled people.

Clifford submitted the request as part of research for her book about the government’s war on disabled people, due to be published by Zed Books in June 2020.

She said the failure to hold the information was “bizarre”.

Clifford said: “In line with article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the government should be promoting participation of disabled people in political and public life.”

She pointed out that, with the likely departure of Jared O’Mara (although it emerged this week that he has postponed his plans to resign as an MP), there would be only six MPs who self-describe as disabled people – Marsha de Cordova, Robert Halfon, Paul Maynard, Stephen Lloyd, Marie Rimmer and Emma Lewell-Buck.

Clifford said: “If government departments aren’t even monitoring representation of disabled people in their recruitment to public positions, particularly in roles relating to disability, we can assume this is not an issue they have interest in tackling.”

She said it was another example of how “meaningless” the disability champions initiative was.

She said: “Whether the government’s disability champions are themselves disabled or not is not necessarily an indication of how well they are able to fulfil their roles.”

But she said there had been no evidence of “tangible outcomes” from their appointments.

She added: “The failure to hold any equalities monitoring data on the champions further confirms the idea that these are purely tokenistic appointments created to give the impression of progress while the government continues its deliberate retrogression of disabled people’s rights.”

Clifford also pointed out that the sector champions were appointed to “remove the obstacles faced by disabled consumers”, with former minister for disabled people Sarah Newton saying in March that this would help businesses take advantage of the “staggering” £249 billion a year spending power of disabled consumers and their families.

But Clifford said this figure represented their disposable income, before housing costs and essentials, so disabled people’s actual spending power was far lower.

She said: “The so-called ‘purple pound’ is not, as suggested by proponents of the idea, equivalent to the pink or grey pounds which represent the spending power of the gay community and older people.

These are valuable to businesses because of the relatively high proportion of discretionary income – the amount left after tax, housing and basic living costs – that they contain.”

Clifford added: “The fact that the very basis for the initiative – the spending power of disabled people – fails to stand up to scrutiny underlines the government’s complete disinterest in what it would actually take to improve the lives of disabled people.”

Separately, Disability News Service has secured a copy of the agreement that DWP’s disability champions are asked to sign before taking on the voluntary, unpaid role.

The agreement says they are expected to be “a self-motivated successful business person with strong networks” and “passionate about driving social change for disabled people”.

They are also expected to be “a public advocate for improving accessibility and quality of services/facilities in your sector” and to “ensure businesses understand the benefits of employing disabled people”.

Although they do not have to pledge not to bring DWP into disrepute – as several charities have had to promise when taking contracts under DWP’s Work and Health Programme – they are not allowed to “represent any political preferences or views while undertaking the role”.

The agreement adds: “If you are asked to comment on government policy or legislation in your corporate role you will be expected to make it clear that you are speaking for your company and not as a Sector Champion.”

Asked why the department did not know how many of its sector champions were disabled people, a DWP spokesperson said: “Our sector champions have a proven track record of helping to tackle the issues faced by disabled consumers.

While some of the champions do have a disability, it is not a requirement for the role, and as they are not public sector employees we do not ask them to disclose this information.”

5 September 2019

 

 

Trio of DPOs warn government of ‘grave concerns’ over no-deal Brexit

Three national disabled people’s organisations have told the government of their “grave concerns” about the impact of a no-deal Brexit.

Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales and Disability Action (in Northern Ireland) are among 85 organisations that have signed a joint letter to prime minister Boris Johnson about the risks of Britain leaving the European Union (EU) without an agreement.

The letter, coordinated by the Brexit Civil Society Alliance, points to the “growing body of evidence” that shows that a no-deal Brexit would be “detrimental to civil society and the communities that we work with” and would have “drastic and wide-ranging implications”.

And it warns that voluntary organisations have not had “adequate support, resources and engagement” from the government in preparation for a no-deal Brexit.

Inclusion Scotland said this week that the proposed suspension of parliament and the growing likelihood of a no-deal Brexit “poses direct threats to Scots disabled people”.

Among its concerns are that disabled people would be disproportionately affected by any food shortages or price hikes because they are more likely to be living in poverty.

Any Brexit-related staffing shortage within health and social care would also disproportionately impact disabled Scots, said Inclusion Scotland.

And post no-deal changes to immigration laws are likely to impact on the availability of personal assistants (PAs), which could see disabled people “slide back” into depending on institutions and being unable to live independently at home.

Although current EU nationals employed as PAs “may well achieve settled status” after Brexit, disabled people may not be able to recruit replacements if restrictions are placed on immigration from the EU.

A no-deal Brexit could also have “serious implications” for disabled people’s access to medicines and medical technologies.

Susie Fitton, policy officer for Inclusion Scotland’s Independent Living in Scotland project, summarised the key fears of disabled people in Scotland as “uncertainty, predicted economic shock and issues with shortage of essentials”.

She said that among the “chaos and clamour” of the Brexit process, “very few people are considering the potentially life-threatening consequences to disabled people of leaving the EU without a deal”.

Fitton said: “Which of our UK politicians are reassuring disabled people that their lives will not be threatened by food or medicine shortages, or that they will work to ensure staffing shortages within health and social care, already at crisis levels across the UK, are not exacerbated by a no-deal Brexit?”

She added: “The failure by the UK government to reassure disabled people that their lives will not be blighted by Brexit is truly shocking, but not that surprising given that this is a government that will be remembered for the damage and destitution caused by the roll-out of universal credit and the bedroom tax.

Disabled people’s fears about a no-deal Brexit have been nowhere near the top of the UK government’s agenda on Brexit.

Our fear is that the proroguing of parliament [the government’s decision to end this session of parliament next week until 14 October] will only cement that.

Disabled people need firm commitments from the UK government that their rights and services will be safeguarded as we leave the EU, deal or no-deal, and without parliamentary scrutiny such assurances are looking less and less likely.”

5 September 2019

 

 

Research to examine pros and cons of using AI to boost independent living

A new piece of co-produced research will examine the advantages – and risks – of using artificial intelligence (AI) to support disabled people to live independently.

The research, which has secured funding from the British Academy, will see academics work in co-production with disabled people and carers, who will help to design and steer the pilot project.

The project will explore how disabled people are using AI voice-based technologies, such as the Amazon Echo, to deal with the access issues they face in their daily lives and enhance their independence.

But as well as exploring these opportunities, the project will also examine the risks of greater use of AI, such as making it easier for public bodies to make further cuts to health and social care budgets.

Academics at Loughborough University will work on the project with Mark Harrison, formerly chief executive of the disabled people’s organisation Equal Lives and more recently founder of the social enterprise Social Action Solutions.

Because the research is being co-produced, disabled people and carers will act as “co-investigators” and will have a say at every stage of the research project.

Its findings will be shared with disabled people’s organisations and parliamentary groups on AI, disability and social care.

Harrison said: “The crisis in social care is one of the big political and social policy issues of our time. Unfortunately, the debate often focusses on cost rather than quality of life. 

Our research approach puts disabled and older people at the heart of the enquiry process.

Because it is rooted in the real lives of people who use care services, we are confident there will be positive outcomes for participants. 

By co-producing the research with experts, one aim is to enable people to empower themselves through the process.

Another key aspect will be peer-to-peer learning, connecting people who can share experiences and creating a community of AI users.”

Dr Saul Albert, of the university’s School of Social Sciences and Humanities, who is leading the project, said: “Disabled people are very adept at adapting consumer devices to deal with access issues.

In the next few years, the big tech companies will put voice technologies in every home, so we want to use this opportunity to make sure access needs are considered.”

He said that many of the “wacky” ideas about robot carers “sensationalise” the use of AI and “ignore the more fundamental obstacles that disabled people face in society”.

He added: “Similarly, health and care services often focus on how technology will ‘fix’ individual people’s impairments, rather than looking for relatively cheap and straightforward systemic adaptations to the environment that could provide greater accessibility for everyone.”

Albert said that most of the disabled people he and his colleagues had talked to for previous research believe that these technologies “will be used to drive efficiency, to reduce provision of personal assistants, and to justify further cuts to social care budgets”.

His team has been awarded funding by the British Academy to run the pilot project for one year.

Its findings will be used to develop a four-year project that they hope will run from 2020-2024.

Any disabled users of technology interested in helping to shape the project can email Albert at s.b.albert@lboro.ac.uk

5 September 2019

 

 

Disability arts organisations secure £750k to boost number of disabled leaders

Disabled-led organisations have secured funding of more than £750,000 to develop three separate programmes that will aim to produce more disabled leaders in the arts.

All three of the programmes receiving funding from Arts Council England (ACE) are headed by disabled-led arts organisations.

The funding comes months after ACE revealed in its fourth annual diversity report that there had been only small increases over the last two years (2015-16 to 2017-18) in the small proportion of chief executives, chairs and artistic directors of ACE-funded arts organisations who reported that they were disabled.

The largest of the new grants has been given to Graeae Theatre Company, which will receive £300,000 for a national leadership programme, with one of its focuses being to connect early and mid-career disabled artists with mentors.

ACE is also providing funding of £284,000 to Access All Areas (AAA), Disability Arts Online (DAO) and Manchester Metropolitan University for the LeaD career development programme, which will support seven potential leaders with learning difficulties to become theatre directors, represent AAA on social media and become co-chairs of boards of trustees.

And Shape Arts will receive £185,000 for a two-year leadership programme, which it hopes will provide up to 50 future disabled leaders with the skills they need.

AAA, DAO, Shape and Graeae are all disabled-led arts organisations.

David Hevey, Shape’s chief executive and artistic director, said his organisation would be “developing new approaches to disabled-led creative leadership and pioneering new models of leadership success for those who have historically faced too many barriers and had too few opportunities”.

Trish Wheatley, DAO’s chief executive, said: “Everyone at Disability Arts Online is so excited about this project.

It will help us to fulfil our long-term ambition of supporting learning disabled people in the arts and cultural sector to have a voice, tell their story and be part of the conversation about arts and culture and the role it has in shaping society.

We’re really looking forward to working with our partners Access All Areas, Lucy Burke (University of Manchester) and experienced leadership coach Sarah Pickthall.”

Nick Llewellyn, AAA’s artistic director, said LeaD would “give a voice to a community that has not had a seat at the table before”.

And Jodi-Alissa Bickerton, Graeae’s creative learning director, said the funding was “a game-changer to support more Deaf and disabled artists at all stages of their career”.

Joyce Wilson, ACE’s London area director, said the three programmes would “ensure effective representation of disabled leaders in organisations and venues across the country” and would “work to open up the cultural landscape for D/deaf and disabled artists and drive much needed change across the sector”.

The funding is part of ACE’s Transforming Leadership fund, which saw grants of more than £7 million – funded by the National Lottery – handed to 18 projects, with the aim of ensuring arts and cultural leaders “are appropriately skilled and from diverse backgrounds”.

An ACE spokesperson told Disability News Service that supporting programmes that address the lack of diversity in arts and cultural leadership was a priority of the fund.

She said: “Our annual diversity reports were part of the evidence base for the development of this fund, which highlighted the underrepresentation of disabled people in senior roles across the sector, as well as slow improvement in the number of black and ethnic minority leaders and, in some cases, of female leaders.”

5 September 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:04
Sep 052019
 

[Text from the Facebook event page hosted by Another Europe is possible]

WE DEMAND BORIS JOHNSON’S RESIGNATION.

An unelected government is attacking our democracy so that it can drive through its Brexit agenda. We don’t just have the right to resist it – we have a duty.

This week will change Britain forever. Don’t be silent, don’t be absent – stand up and be counted.

We are calling on everyone to mobilise at 2.30pm on Saturday 7th September. Cancel your weekend plans, come to Downing Street, take part in a mass movement to stop the coup.

London Protest: 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AT, United Kingdom. More detail on the Facebook Event Page

Protests around the country – you can find out where protests are happening and when, on this map

 Posted by at 14:53
Sep 032019
 

Boris Johnson’s hubris and scheming in his attempt to bounce the country into leaving the EU with no-deal has brought about the prospect of an early General election. 

While many are wary of Johnson manoeuvring over the date of the election we believe that any opportunity to get the Tories out should be seized upon. 

If this chance to take on the Tories at their most divided is squandered it would see disabled people and others suffering after almost a decade of Tory attacks facing that brutality for longer. 

As with any battle in our long war there is no guarantee that we will win but if we do not fight we have already lost. In the last election in 2017 the press and polls would have had us believe the Tories were on course for a historic win – it wasn’t true then and we shouldn’t believe they are right now. We must certainly be wary of advice from figures such as Tony Blair who never had our interests at the front of their thoughts or actions when laying the basis for the WCA.

The former Tory Chancellor George Osborne’s paper the Evening Standard is certainly not of the opinion that Johnson and the Tories are confident of electoral success:

“The fact is that Mr Johnson’s closest electoral advisers think privately there is a high chance that he might lose an election.”

We need to stop and scrap the horror of Universal Credit, sanctions and the Work Capability Assessment now – not at some fictionalized perfect moment in the future which may never come. 

We need a general election now. 

[By Mark Dunk and Paula Peters]

Make sure you are registered to vote: Register to voteEasyread instructions

 Posted by at 22:08
Sep 012019
 

We’ve had the following request from Rob Booth, Social Affairs Correspondent for The Guardian:

We are trying to find out what happens when people make UC applications and they are processed by the DWP’s computer technology or how their applications are handled by local authorities when they make council tax benefit and housing benefit claims.

None of the authorities are particularly open how they use computer software to carry out what is known as “risk based verification” – their way of deciding how likely a claim is to be fraudulent or erroneous. We do know that some use commercially bought software which matches an individual’s application with other information about the bought commercially – eg from credit score agencies. Given the impact of this process on people’s welfare we need to know more.

I am looking to see if there are half a dozen (or more) people who claim (or have recently claimed) UC or Council Tax or Housing Benefit who want to find out.

The way we could do this is for each individual to make a subject access request asking for how their data has been handled. I can help with this there is a set way of asking for the information. The template is pasted below and feel free to distribute this to anyone who might be interested. I think the right address for requests for the DWP is data.protectionofficer@dwp.gov.uk It will vary for local authorities, but is often the data protection officer.

Organisations have a month to respond to subject access requests so I am keen to see if we could lodge them by the end of next week, the first week of September. Any information that comes back is of course the requester’s but I would like to be able to see the responses and report on them. I can of course do this anonymously, and would understand anyone requesting that.

If you are interested in taking part, please contact:

Robert Booth
Social affairs correspondent, The Guardian

rob.booth@theguardian.com

+44 (20) 33532319
+44 07946 518256
Twitter @Robert_Booth

 


Template

SUBJECT ACCESS REQUEST

[YOUR FULL ADDRESS]
[PHONE NUMBER]
[DATE]

[NAME OF AUTHORITY]
[ADDRESS OF AUTHORITY]

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to make a Subject Access Request for a copy of the data you hold about me, to which I am entitled under the Data Protection Act 2018.

[YOUR FULL NAME, ADDRESS, PLUS ANY OTHER INFORMATION TO HELP IDENTIFY YOU]

I am writing with reference to processing of my personal data for the purposes of my application for Universal Credit (OR OTHER BENEFIT) on (DATE OF APPLICATION).

Please supply the data relating to:

What risk category was assigned to me through the Risk Based Verification process?
What categories of personal information about me were processed for this Risk Based Verification analysis?
How was personal information about me sourced, other than the data obtained from me directly?
How did the Risk Based Verification result affect the processing of the claim and the additional personal information I was asked to provide?
What organisation provided the Risk Based Verification software used to process my data and can you supply any manuals or presentations about how it operates?
Who are the recipients or categories of recipient you have or will disclose my risk category and or other personal data to?
For how long will you retain my personal data or, what are your criteria for determining how long you will store it?

If you require any further information regarding the request, please notify me as soon as possible. I look forward to receiving your response to my request within one calendar month, as per my right under the Data Protection Act 2018.

If you are not familiar with dealing with these requests, please forward this letter to your Data Protection Officer, or a relevant staff member.

Yours faithfully,

[SIGNATURE]

 

 Posted by at 21:30
Sep 012019
 

Boris Johnson is trying to shut down our democracy so that he can deliver on his Brexit agenda.

From Monday 2nd September, we will be protesting EVERY DAY at 5.30pm in every town and city in the country.

For more info, and to set up an event, visit https://www.stopthecoup.org.uk/ , see the Facebook event page or email info@anothereurope.org

We can’t just rely on the courts or parliamentary process to save the day. We all have a duty to stand up and be counted. Join the nationwide wave of protests to defend democracy and fight against Boris Johnson’s Brexit agenda. Every day at 5.30pm

Organised by Another Europe Is Possible

#StopTheCoup

 Posted by at 12:49
Aug 302019
 

#StopTheCoup! Join the nationwide wave of protests

We can’t let Boris Johnson shut down democracy.

28th August 2019


Contains the text - Defend Democrary, Resist the Parliament Shutdown

Boris Johnson is trying to shut down our democracy so that he can deliver on his Brexit agenda.

We we can’t just rely on the courts or parliamentary process to save the day. We all have a duty to stand up and be counted.

This Saturday, we’re organising a nationwide wave of protests. Join us and invite everyone you know. Let’s make it huge.

Aberdeen, 12 noon at the Castlegate. Event here.

Belfast, 10 am, City Hall. Event here.

Birmingham, 1 pm on Victoria Square by the Council House. Event here.

Bournemouth, 11 am, Bournemouth Square. Event here.

Bodmin, 11 am, Mount Folly Square. Event here.

Brighton, 12 noon, The Level BN1 4ZN. Event here.

Bristol, 12 noon, College Green. Event here.

Cambridge, 12 noon, outside The Guildhall, Market Square. Event here.

Clitheroe, 11am, Bull Ring, Clitheroe Market. Event here.

Dundee, 2 pm, City Square. Event here.

Edinburgh, 12 noon, Holyrood. Event here.

Exeter, 11 am, Bedford Square. Event here.

Glasgow, 2 pm, George Square. Event here.

Hull, 12 noon, Hull City Hall. Event here.

Leeds, 11 am, Henry Moor Institute, Cookridge St. Event here.

Liverpool, 12 noon, St George’s Hall. Event here.

London, 12 noon, Downing Street. Event here.

Leamington Spa, 12 noon in the Pump Room Gardens. Event here.

Manchester, 12 noon, Cathedral Gardens. Event here.

Newcastle, 12 noon, Grey’s Monument. Event here.

Nottingham,  11 am, Brian Clough Statue close to Old Market Square. Event here.

Northampton, 11 am, Cobbler’s statue, middle of Abington St. Event here.

Oxford, 11 am, Broad Street outside Balliol College. Event here.

Plymouth, 11am, Armada Dial. Event here.

Romsey, 10am, Palmerston Statue. Facebook event here.

Southampton, 12 noon, Guildhall Square. Event here.

Sheffield, 11 am, Town Hall. Event here.

Swansea, 12 noon, Big Screen at Castle Square. Event here.

Swindon, 11 am, 29 Wood St. Event here.

Tavistock, Friday (!) 12:30, Lockyer House, Paddons Row PL19 0HF. Event here.

Tonbridge and Malling, 11 am, The Big Bridge, High Street. Event here.

Windsor, 11 am, Windsor Bridge. Event here.

York, 11 am, St Helen’s Square. Event here.

International

Amsterdam, 2 pm, Dam Square. Event here.
Riga, 1 pm, British Embassy. Event here.

And see even more protests on this map:

 

 Posted by at 16:57
Aug 302019
 

DPAC is hosting some sessions at The World Transformed this year. If  you don’t already know what The World Transformed is, here is a description from their website

The World Transformed is about thinking big. It’s about imagining radical change and planning how to make it happen. And it’s about doing it together.

We’re a 4-day politics, arts and music festival running alongside the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, working to build left power both inside and outside of Parliament.

Since 2016 we’ve been mixing big names with the most inspiring grassroots voices from all over the world, tackling topics that others overlook. TWT is a space for everyone – from seasoned campaigners to people who are brand new to politics.

And you can read more about it on The World Transformed website

DPAC are hosting these sessions at TWT:

Support not sanctions: a radical new approach on social security

Date: Mon 23.09.19
Timings:5:30pm – 7pm

The social security system is in need of radical reform. We need support not sanctions. If you are a service user or just interested in social security then this is the session for you.

Find out more including how to sign up here http://theworldtransformed.org/festival/2019/programme/support-not-sanctions:-a-radical-new-approach-on-social-security

The future of social care and independent living

Date Tue 24.09.19
Timings 3pm – 4:30pm

This session will explore policy ideas for social care/independent living for the future. While the crisis in social care is well known, politicians are reluctant to put forward solutions. Speakers from the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, a national network of grassroots disabled people led organisations, will put forward their ideas for the bold new vision that is needed, before enabling participants to share their thoughts on what a different system could look like and how we can get there.

Find out more including how to sign up here http://theworldtransformed.org/festival/2019/programme/the-future-of-social-care-and-independent-living

Piss on Pity: Disability Oppression

Date Tue 24.09.19
Timings 1pm – 2:30pm

This session will explore the relationship between disabled people’s oppression and capitalism. Disability is a historical, socially-created category and yet according to dominant ideas within society, the inequalities experienced by disabled people are still often viewed as inevitable. A panel of disabled speakers involved in writing and thinking about disability politics will present their analysis before allowing for group discussions on why and how misconceptions about disability persist and what we can do to challenge them.

Find out more including how to sign up here http://theworldtransformed.org/festival/2019/programme/piss-on-pity:-disability-oppression

#MoreThanRamps: an introduction to accessible campaigning

Date Mon 23.09.19
Timings 1pm – 2:30pm

This training session is designed as an introduction to accessible campaigning. Delivered by Deaf and disabled campaigners with a range of access needs, it will provide an over-view of tips for good practice access and inclusion with a chance for participants to share experiences and ask questions in a comfortable space. The session will also look at the future of campaigning and ideas for how to build more diverse activism for a bigger, stronger movement.

Find out more including how to sign up here http://theworldtransformed.org/festival/2019/programme/morethanramps:-an-introduction-to-accessible-campaigning


In addition DPAC is not hosting this session but we are promoting it, and we would encourage disabled people with an interest in accessible transport to go along

Policy Lab: Transforming Transport

Date Mon 23.09.19
Timings 3pm – 4:30pm

How can transport become a universal basic service that all can access, a service that takes us beyond driving and flying, and a service which is so rooted in communities so that it can never be privatised? After a short introduction by Cat Hobbs, director of We Own It, which campaigns for public ownership of our public services, we will learn and discuss from lots of perspectives.

Come to this session to learn, listen, offer your ideas, and craft those ideas into policy proposals.

Find out more including how to sign up here https://master–theworldtransformed.netlify.com/festival/2019/programme/policy-lab:-transforming-transport

 

 Posted by at 16:43
Aug 282019
 

We have had a number of people contacting us recently saying that they have asked their doctor to write a letter stating that they need a home visit for a benefit assessment and the doctor has refused.

Others have told us that their GP has refused to issue them a Fit Note

We are very concerned about this, and we want to make representations to the Royal College of GP s and other medical professional bodies about it.

But to do that we need evidence of how widespread a problem this is for claimants. So we need your help. If a doctor has refused to write a letter for you, or refused to issue you a Fit Note, or has even complained about having to do it, could you please let us know by emailing mail@dpac.uk.net

 Posted by at 16:14

Protest against the suspension of Parliament – Updated

 News  Comments Off on Protest against the suspension of Parliament – Updated
Aug 282019
 

In today’s news we have seen that Boris Johnson is suspending Parliament in order to force through a No-Deal Brexit.

Whether you are Leaver or Remainer, the suspension of parliamentary democracy on order to force through measures that would likely be halted by Parliament is a serious challenge to the democratic processes of this country.

When governments start pushing aside the people’s elected representatives in order to force through unpopular measures, it could be the beginning of a slide towards fascism, and we believe that this threat transcends all other issues.

There are a number of protests being organised today, with possibly more to come.

The ones that we know about so fare are:

  • August 31st at 12 noon: Stop The Coup Protest, 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AT (See the Facebook Event Page)
  • September 3rd at 6pm: Protest being organised
  • October 12th from 1 pm: Protest in Parliament Square
  • October 19th March organised by People’s Vote

DPAC will be joining the protest in Parliament Square on October 12th from 1pm onwards. If you would like to join the DPAC Bloc for this protest, or want to contact us about joining us in the other protests email us on mail@dpac.uk.net.

You can keep up to date with other protest news on this or other issues on the DPAC blog

 Posted by at 16:12
Aug 262019
 

[Text from Disability Sheffield Blog]

One of the biggest controversies involving those applying for Personal Independence Payments is that there are often apparent discrepancies between what is actually said in the assessment interviews and what the assessor’s report later claims.

Not everyone is aware that you are allowed to record the interview either in audio cassette or CD format providing advance notice is given and two copies of the recording are made, one of which must be given to the assessor at the end of the interview. Moreover, the equipment must be supplied by the person being assessed and many people on benefits cannot afford to buy recording equipment and also the equipment must be able to produce two identical copies of the recording at the end of the consultation.

So the Sheffield branch of campaigning organisation Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) has launched a crowdfunding appeal to buy tape recorders and cassettes for people to use during their assessments.

A spokesperson for DPAC Sheffield, said: “Everyone who has contacted DPAC Sheffield about their PIP assessments has said they have received inaccurate accounts of the assessment. In addition 94% of responses to a recent survey we did said they would want their PIP assessments recording so we figured why not try and start up a small bank of equipment to loan?’

“Despite the DWP’s media spin we BELIEVE people’s first hand accounts of this, indeed some of us at DPAC Sheffield have experienced the same thing. We reject recent statements to the press that claim “very few people request recordings” as evidenced in our poll, as well as personal accounts, the truth is quite the opposite.

We’ve decided not to take the excuse of “there’s no equipment available” any longer and to instead aim to provide equipment to people for their assessments. We’re aware of the criteria for providing your own recording devices. They must be identical if using two devices, and tapes must be sealed. So anything said will be on the record.

In the appeal’s first 24 hours, almost twice the original £105 target was raised but it is hoped that even more will be forthcoming so that anyone in the area who wants to record their assessment can do.

To find out more about the appeal see the crowdfunding page

 Posted by at 12:26
Aug 222019
 

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

Council’s planned care charge rises ‘could prove fatal’

Leading disabled campaigners have warned that a council’s proposals to increase care charges will force them and others to quit their jobs and stop their volunteering work, and will push many others into poverty.

One influential campaigner warned that she could be forced to reduce her care from 63 hours a week to just seven, and might have to consider residential care, if Greenwich council goes ahead with its plans.

Another said the Labour-run council’s changes could force her to quit her job with a disabled people’s organisation in another London borough.

A third disabled resident said she feared she would have to quit her work as a self-employed consultant, and her campaigning work with organisations such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), if the council presses ahead with its plans.

Another Greenwich resident, Fred Williams, who receives 38 hours of support a week, said he would refuse to pay any new charges imposed on him by the council.

He has been refusing to pay all care charges requested by Greenwich council since 1995, when new laws on charging were introduced by the Conservative government.

Williams plans to take legal action against the council if it continues with its proposals.

He said they could even prove fatal for some disabled people in the borough, many of whom have already experienced cuts through the introduction of universal credit and personal independence payment.

He said: “For many, it will mean a loss of care, they won’t be able to afford the extra charges, it will end up being a choice of food, heating or paying for the little care they can afford. In time, this could be fatal. 

Is Greenwich council going to take full responsibility for these deaths?”

Among 11 proposals, Greenwich council wants to increase the hourly rate it charges for home care; force recipients of the higher rate of disability benefits to contribute more towards their care; remove subsidies for delivery of frozen ready meals; remove its cap on charges for home care; and increase charges for service-users with savings of between £14,250 and £23,250.

The council’s own equality impact assessment of its proposals warned there was a “risk of impacting on income of most severely disabled people”.

Another disabled resident, Kate Brown, in an open letter to the council that was supported by the grassroots group WinVisible, has said that her charges would increase from £65 per week to £105 per week or more.

She said in the letter: “This sounds overdramatic, but if I had to cut down to pay the extra, it would be on food, or the clothes and bedding that I need as I am double incontinent.”

She has already seen her support package cut from 168 hours to 27.5 hours a week, following the closure of the Independent Living Fund in 2015.

Greenwich is just the latest local authority to announce plans to increase charges or restrict access to care and support, as the government continues to delay publication of its long-awaited green paper on how to deal with the adult social care funding crisis.

Anne Novis, who chairs Inclusion London, and received a commendation from the Metropolitan police only last month for her work as an independent advisor to the force, said she was likely to have to quit both those voluntary positions if the council’s proposals went ahead.

Because she was left some money when her mother died, Novis will be hit hard by the reduction on the cap in charges. She is set to lose support worth £3,500 a month.

She said: “If that is removed as proposed, I will have to pay for all my care, an impossible request if I am to live.”

Within a year, she fears she will be forced to claim housing benefit and will probably be hit by the bedroom tax, because of the lack of smaller accessible properties in the borough.

She said: “If they remove the cap, I will be faced with paying all of it or the cheaper option of going into a care home.”

Another option is to cut her care from 63 hours a week to one hour a day, which would still cost more than £300 a month.

She said: “I will not be able to do anything. My life just comes to existing, not living, not contributing to all the things I do. That’s what people need to hear about.”

She added: “I fear I will end up in hospital, as I will not be able to afford the care I have been assessed as needing.”

Novis said the council’s plans would “push all service users into more poverty”, because they are already struggling with the benefits freeze and increased living costs.

Jenny Hurst, another well-known disabled campaigner and Greenwich resident, told Disability News Service that she fears the care charge changes could force her to quit her job – supporting disabled people being assessed for care in another borough – and rely instead on benefits.

She said the Greenwich consultation document says people will only be charged what they can afford.

But she said: “I support people on a regular basis with little or no savings, some with not a penny to their name, who are in debt and struggling to afford household bills and food on a week by week basis who are told [by their council] that they can afford over £100 a week towards their care.

Calculations are done according to a standard formula, using figures from the government, with minor tweaks… not considering the person’s actual living costs.

They have all been told that, according to the government’s calculations, they can afford to pay towards their care. The reality for them is that they can’t.

Greenwich’s consultation document shows that Greenwich will also be following the same government figures in the calculations.”

She added: “People should not have to pay for support to do the most basic tasks that non-disabled people take for granted.”

Eleanor Lisney, another high-profile disabled Greenwich resident, as a DPAC co-founder, said: “My care package is just enough to ensure I have my personal needs taken care of so that I am presentable for the work I do.

I get my meals cooked and help to maintain hygiene at home, shopping and some leisure activities and campaigning work.

I don’t think I can afford that if I have to pay for it myself.

I think, ultimately, I fear that we will be stripped of dignity and choice if we are not afforded the basic daily functions that a non-disabled person takes for granted.

It is disingenuous to say it is only imposed on people who can afford it, because many of us are walking the line with poverty and the safety net is not there for us.”

A new DPAC group in Greenwich, which Lisney, Hurst and Novis have set up, aims to challenge the proposed increased charges.

Their fight against Greenwich council’s proposals is supported by Inclusion London.

Svetlana Kotova, director of campaigns and justice for Inclusion London, said: “Social care charges are a tax on disability.

More and more research is illustrating how care charges are pushing disabled people into deeper poverty and forcing some to make unenviable choices between heating and eating.

Hammersmith and Fulham council have scrapped social care charges and Inclusion London hopes that Greenwich council will learn lessons from their colleagues and reduce the burden on disabled people who have already been hit disproportionately hard by a decade of austerity.

We will continue supporting disabled people in Greenwich to campaign against the proposed changes and we will explore all possible means to prevent Greenwich council from implementing their proposals.

We will make sure disabled people in Greenwich understand their rights, have access to advice, including legal advice, and can challenge councils’ decisions when necessary.”

Greenwich council refused to say if it was concerned that its proposals might push some disabled people into poverty, or if they might force some service-users to give up their voluntary or paid work.

It also refused to say if it believed that the changes would force some disabled people into residential care.

But Cllr Averil Lekau, cabinet member for adult social care and health, said in a statement: “Hundreds of people have had their say on a range of proposals that we are consulting on, and I have personally met and listened to residents who may be affected.

The consultation has now closed, and all the responses will be collated, analysed and used to inform our decision.

Since 2010, our funding has reduced by a staggering £1,400 per household, totalling some £125 million, largely as a result of funding that the government has taken away from us.

At the same time, the population has grown, and more people have had to use our adult social care services.

Many other councils have already increased the amount they are charging – something we have resisted for years.

Unfortunately, we are at the end of the line and have to make some incredibly difficult decisions.

However, whatever changes are brought in, we will make sure that there will be rigorous assessments so that the people who are least able to afford any increases are protected.

I note that the new prime minister has pledged to fix the social care crisis – I very much hope that this means putting an end to austerity and giving councils the money they need to provide crucial services for their most vulnerable residents.”

22 August 2019

 

 

Family fight for ‘misdiagnosed’ autistic man who fears being left to die in hospital

An autistic man who has been kept in locked mental health units for four years has told his mother he fears he will never be released.

The user-led campaign group Autistic UK is supporting the family of Ikram Khan, now 23, who have been fighting since 2015 for the release of their son.

They say he has been wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia, and has been kept under heavy medication for four years, and kept locked up in a series of mental health units at a cost of £13,000 a week.

It is the latest example of a young autistic person forced into a hospital unit, and kept under heavy medication, rather than being supported to live independently in the community.

At one stage, Ikram was so heavily dosed on anti-psychotics that he lost the ability to recognise his family.

Ikram, who has two brothers and three sisters, has told his mother, Monaka Bibi, from Birmingham: “It looks like I am going to die here.”

He told her: “Mum, they took me when I was 19. I never got the chance to work. I can’t do that if I’m locked up.”

Another patient in Priory Woodland View, the private mental health unit near Coventry where he has been kept under section for more than a year, has told Ikram he has been there for 20 years. Now he fears the same fate.

Ikram’s primary school told his family they thought he had Asperger’s syndrome, while his secondary school later attempted to have him assessed for Asperger’s, but he refused to attend the assessment.

He was first sectioned four years ago, at the age of just 19, when – his mother says – he was told he was being taken to an NHS mental health centre for some “activities”.

She was then phoned later that day and told he had been sectioned.

She was given three different explanations for her son being sectioned, she said.

She says he has never been violent, and the only incident of any aggression happened when he was 19, after he was placed on powerful anti-psychotic medication by local mental health services, and even then he had only spat at a fellow college student.

His mother said that after the medication was reduced “he really regretted his actions” and “reverted to his mild-mannered self”.

One doctor specialising in patients with learning difficulties has previously told the family that Ikram is autistic and does not have schizophrenia, but the family say that that diagnosis has been ignored by Forward Thinking Birmingham (FTB), the local NHS provider of community mental health services for children and young people.

FTB took over provision of these services in 2016, after Ikram was first sectioned.

Although in the last couple of months Priory Woodland View has allowed him weekly home visits, his family say he still spends half of the week detained under section in a locked ward in the hospital.

He has to take five separate drugs to counteract the side-effects of the powerful anti-psychotic medication Clozapine he is forced to take.

His mother said: “They just want to keep him locked up. They have no reason.

They are paying £13,000 a week to lock him up. It will cost them a lot more to keep him in hospital than to keep him in the community.

The mental health system is a minefield and finding one’s way around seems impossible.”

As well as securing his discharge, the family want a “proper second opinion” on his diagnosis of schizophrenia, with full disclosure of his previous hospital records.

They say the private hospitals and mental health professionals now responsible for him being detained have yet to see these records, and that he has never had any hallucinations.

They believe the records would show that the symptoms taken by his doctors as signs of psychosis were in fact the result of an infection and his autism.

And they say that FTB has told them it cannot find suitable accommodation for him in the community, and that the family home is too noisy.

Ikram’s mother said her son’s ordeal had “devastated” her life – affecting her health, and forcing her to give up her volunteering work, quit her job and put her studies on hold.

The family is just one of several being supported by Autistic UK, a grassroots group run by autistic people, which is seeking legal help for them.

Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, said: “Ikram has been robbed of four years of his life. Why? Because of medical ignorance and mismanagement.

He has missed four years when he could have been getting a job, making new friends, maybe even going to uni. He will never get those years back.

Too many autistic and learning disabled people are experiencing this fate – rotting away in assessment and treatment units or mental hospital wards when they should be out in the community experiencing what life has to offer. 

We at Autistic UK want to know why, when the NHS is so strapped for money, they are spending tens of thousands of pounds a week per person to lock these people up when it would be so much cheaper, and so much more humane, to give them support in the community.

Why are so many lives being irreparably damaged so needlessly?” 

She added: “We are asking for the NHS, social services, and the governments both local and national to cooperate to resolve the horrific abuse that is happening all over the country.

This is a human rights crisis. Please act before more lives are ruined.”

In May, an interim Care Quality Commission report found more than 70 disabled children and adults – all of them autistic or with learning difficulties – in long-term segregation in facilities across England.

The government has agreed to have all their cases reviewed, although it is not clear whether Ikram’s is one of them.

A spokesperson for Priory Woodland View said: “We cannot comment in any detail about individual cases.

However, we take all complaints seriously and ensure they are thoroughly investigated.

We are exploring the family’s concerns in detail and are seeking to offer as much support as we can, whilst discussions regarding his placement are ongoing.”

An FTB spokesperson said FTB would not be responsible for discharging Ikram, and that “due to patient confidentiality we’re not able to share specific details of cases”.

He refused to clarify the role that FTB played in such cases.

But he said in a statement: “We’re unable to comment on individual cases due to confidentiality.

When working with partner organisations we do everything possible to ensure the care patients receive is the most appropriate for their needs.”

22 August 2019

 

 

Failure to fund access costs of general election candidates is ‘denial of democracy’

Disabled politicians preparing to contest the general election likely to be called within months will be hit hard by the government’s refusal to fund their disability-related campaign spending, a Deaf parliamentary candidate has warned.

Kerena Marchant, who uses British Sign Language (BSL) and is a disability rights campaigner and a TV producer and journalist, will be contesting the Basingstoke seat at the next general election.

But she fears she will not be competing on a level playing-field with other candidates.

With most observers expecting a general election to be called by new prime minister Boris Johnson within months, Marchant is concerned that the government has made no attempt to provide support for those disabled candidates contesting seats.

This failure is likely to hit efforts to increase the number of disabled MPs, with only about one per cent of MPs currently self-identifying as disabled people.

Marchant was selected by Labour this year to fight the Basingstoke seat currently occupied by Conservative MP Maria Miller, a former minister for disabled people and currently chair of the Commons women and equalities committee.

Marchant has pointed out that a new temporary fund to support disabled candidates who want to stand for elected office – the EnAble Fund for Elected Office, which went live in January – is not open to parliamentary candidates.

Only disabled people fighting local government and Police and Crime Commissioner elections can apply for EnAble grants.

Marchant said the lack of funding for parliamentary elections “has completely cut disabled people out of the political arena” at a time when there is “growing talk and likelihood of a general election”.

She said she felt as though she was competing in “a race up a steep mountain and the other candidates are already over halfway up and I haven’t started.

I not only have to fundraise for the campaign but also include some of my interpreting costs.”

She said that Miller’s time as minister for disabled people between 2010 and 2012, in a coalition government that “hit disabled people hard with austerity”, just “makes me want to run faster”. 

She added: “We are living in a time when disabled people have taken the brunt of the government’s austerity cuts and many are living in poverty, many are unable to fulfil their potential, their futures stolen.

Tragically, thousands have lost their lives because of the cuts and the Department for Work and Pensions is a hostile environment.

This lack of financial support for disabled candidates puts disabled people in a separate political class and denies them democracy and peer representation in parliament at the time they most need it to fight back.”

Marchant was only able to contest the selection process for the seat because her constituency Labour party provided some funding for interpreters.

Now she has been selected, the local party is also making phone calls on her behalf, providing party volunteers to accompany her on visits and carry out note-taking duties, and paying for some interpreters at meetings.

Meanwhile, she has applied for a bursary from the party to cover her disability-related expenses.

The EnAble fund is a temporary, partial replacement for the Access to Elected Office Fund (AEOF), which was frozen by the government in 2015 after just three years and had provided funding for expenses such as BSL interpreters, assistive technology, personal assistants and taxi fares.

In contrast to EnAble, AEOF was open to disabled people seeking election to parliament.

Marchant said: “The government have deliberately kicked [AEOF] into the long grass and left it there, hoping that it is hidden and forgotten.

Throughout this period when MPs have written letters and asked questions about it, they have used delays, diversions and excuses.

There must be other disabled candidates hit by this or not standing. The sad thing is that if there is a snap election this autumn it could be the last chance to stand until 2024.”

Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, said: “Disabled people are seriously under-represented in the House of Commons.

Disabled people need access to funding for disability-related expenses for general elections too.

It would be a breach of article 29 of the UN disability convention [on participation in political and public life] if funds were not available for general elections.

Failure to extend the fund to cover general elections will damage efforts to increase the numbers of disabled MPs.”

A long-delayed evaluation report into AEOF, when it was finally published last June, found that it had been “very expensive” to run.

The average cost of processing each grant by the company that secured the contract was £52 for every £100 spent on grants in the first two years, and £13 for every £100 spent on grants in the final year.

It also found that only 14 per cent of disabled people applying for grants were Conservatives while 39 per cent were Labour candidates.

AEOF’s partial replacement, EnAble, is administered by the disabled people’s organisation Disability Rights UK (DR UK) on behalf of the Local Government Association (LGA), but with central government funding.

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

DR UK said it was in discussions with the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and LGA about extending the fund to cover a snap general election.

Kamran Mallick, DR UK’s chief executive, said: “We are aware that the current fund does not cover general elections, and we have spoken to the GEO/LGA about this.

Discussions are ongoing about the possibility of making the EnAble Fund available for this very scenario [a snap general election].

So yes, we would like to see the fund extended for this.

As an organisation we believe that the barriers preventing disabled people from standing for local/national elections should be removed and part of this is through supporting individuals with disability-related expenses.”

He added: “The fund is designed to provide financial support for reasonable adjustments and its impact was demonstrated in the English local elections [where it helped 19 disabled people win seats on local councils].”

Asked about a possible snap general election, a GEO spokesperson said she would not comment on “hypothetical scenarios”, but she said in a statement: “There is not a general election currently scheduled for the time period of the fund but we will consider parliamentary by-elections on a case-by-case basis. 

The EnAble Fund for Elected Office runs between the financial years of 2018-2020.

It was always intended to be used for the English local elections in 2019, and allocating the money across two financial years ensures all of the money can be allocated to candidates.

This is an interim fund whilst the government undertakes a programme of work with disability stakeholders to help major political parties best support disabled candidates.”

22 August 2019

 

 

Tourist attraction could face legal action after ‘years of access failings’

A world-renowned London tourist attraction could soon be facing legal action after failing for years to address its glaring access flaws, according to a former adviser.

Disabled broadcaster, journalist and access consultant Mik Scarlet said it was “shocking” that a top London tourist attraction like Camden Market was so “unwelcoming and unsafe” for disabled people.

He previously spent more than six years working two days a month advising the market on its access.

But almost nothing was done by its owners to act on his advice, he says.

He was taken on as an access consultant at a time when he was one of the market’s most outspoken and high-profile critics.

Now, he says, he feels like he was just “paid to shut up”.

It is now three years since he stopped working for Camden Market, and he believes the situation has become so bad that its accessibility failings are a significant health and safety risk to many disabled visitors.

Scarlet, who lives in Camden, told Disability News Service (DNS): “This is an internationally-famous tourist attraction. It really puts Camden on the map.

It needs to start being inclusive and represent London in the 21st century.

It is no longer an access issue. I think it’s gone past that. I think it’s a health and safety issue now.

You can’t guarantee walking around the market that you won’t trip and fall.”

He added: “I rant on Twitter a lot about this and every time I do, I’m contacted by people who either say, ‘We came, it was awful and it ruined our holiday,’ or, ‘We don’t even go there although we’ve always wanted to because we know how bad it is.’

I don’t understand why the council or the people who run it aren’t embarrassed to be known internationally as somewhere that is so [inaccessible] that disabled people will either go there and it will ruin their holiday because they will get hurt, or not go there at all because they know they will have an awful time. I just don’t get it.”

The huge, sprawling market, which stretches north from Regent’s Canal in Camden, dates back to 1974 but it is now internationally-renowned and has become a huge tourist draw for the capital.

It is the city’s largest market and is open seven days a week, but for wheelchair-users and blind and partially-sighted visitors, large parts of it are practically a no-go area because of the state of disrepair of the cobbled walkways.

Scarlet believes the cobbles, which have steadily deteriorated over the years, are the biggest access failing.

But there are also problems with the accessible toilets – one of which he says became notorious for being used by some stallholders to dispose of their used cooking fat – lifts, poor ramped access to shops and wayfinding around the maze of stalls, shops, bars and clubs.

Scarlet began working one day a month for the market about 10 years ago and spent more than six years writing reports, attending meetings and offering advice on access.

Earlier this year he was invited to a meeting with new management and he says he was promised a “rolling programme of upgrades”.

He said: “That was just after Christmas. It’s now the end of August and I haven’t seen anything done.”

He believes the only solution now is to talk to a solicitor about taking legal action against the market for disability discrimination under the Equality Act.

But he is also frustrated with Labour-run Camden council, which he says has done nothing to force the market to improve access.

He compares it with one of his current clients, Derby City Council, which pressures licensed premises to improve access and has a fund to help businesses make access improvements in keeping with the historic environment.

Scarlet remembers taking the head of athlete engagement for the London 2012 Paralympics, who was preparing information in advance of the games, on a tour of the market.

The cobbles were so bad that the man had to be strapped into his wheelchair by his personal assistant, who also had to “gaffer-tape his head to his headrest”, said Scarlet.

He later advised athletes not to visit the market until they had competed, warning them: “It is so inaccessible you will injure yourself before the games.”

DNS tried repeatedly yesterday (Wednesday) to contact Camden Market about Scarlet’s concerns, but no-one was available to comment.

But a Camden council spokesperson said: “Camden Market is an important part of the character, culture and heritage of Camden Town and the borough. 

The council wants to ensure the market is accessible to all and has encouraged the owners to share their vision strategy, to ensure that this aspiration is realised.”

He said the council’s building control service can advise businesses on accessibility audits, but there are “instances where either due to factors such as space or impact on structural integrity, or public safety, such access provision may not be possible”.

He said there had been no complaints received by the council’s licensing service relating to access to Camden Market businesses.

22 August 2018

 

 

New figures raise fresh questions over Atos PIP assessments

The amount of time that nurses and physiotherapists spend carrying out face-to-face disability benefit assessments can vary hugely, depending on where the test takes place, according to analysis of new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.

Although the figures do not prove that disabled people in some parts of the country are receiving more careful and considered personal independence payment (PIP) assessments than claimants in other areas, they do raise concerns that this could be happening.

And they suggest that there could even be such contrasting experiences for claimants being assessed compared with those in neighbouring towns, cities and counties.

The figures only relate to face-to-face PIP assessments carried out by healthcare professionals working for outsourcing giant Atos, as data is not yet available for those parts of the country covered by DWP’s other PIP contractor, Capita.

And Atos* insisted yesterday (Wednesday) that there was “no pressure on staff to complete assessments quickly” and that any variation shown in the figures was not “untoward”.

The figures show that the average time spent on face-to-face PIP assessments in one part of the south-east of England in August 2018 was just 43.5 minutes.

In the same month, the average time spent on face-to-face assessments in another part of the south-east region was 62.6 minutes, more than 40 per cent higher.

In one part of the north-west of England, in June 2018, assessments were taking an average of 47.2 minutes, compared with 63.1 minutes in another part of the north-west.

In January 2018, average face-to-face assessment times in the north-west varied from 49.4 minutes in one area to 64.7 minutes in another.

The figures are likely to be significant because each of them are averages based on hundreds – and sometimes more than 1,000 – assessments carried out in each area every month in 2018.

They are contained within data files secured from DWP under the Freedom of Information Act by campaigner John Slater.

The files he obtained have previously shown that 37 per cent of disability assessment reports completed by Capita were found to be significantly flawed.

Data released through a parliamentary question later revealed that the proportion of assessment reports completed by Atos that were found to be significantly flawed reached more than 36 per cent last year.

The new analysis of the data files will only add to these concerns about the performance of DWP’s two PIP contractors.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Fluctuations and variations are to be expected in PIP assessment times. 

PIP assessments cover a mix of different types of cases such as new claims and award reviews as well as localised approaches to disability living allowance (DLA) to PIP transitions.”

But Slater said the figures suggested a “postcode lottery” in how “local parts of Atos carry out DLA to PIP transitions (probably the most stressful part of PIP for those on DLA).

I wonder how much the DWP centre knows about these localised approaches or does it just let them do whatever they want?”

The data files show figures for different areas within seven different regions: south-west England, south-east England, London, east England, north-east England, north-west England and Scotland.

The fluctuations appear to be less severe in London and the south-west and more striking in the south-east and north-west of England.

An Atos spokesperson said: “With the focus rightly on quality there is no pressure on staff to complete assessments quickly.

A significant factor in the variation of assessment duration is the proportion of home consultations carried out in an area and those carried out in assessment centres.

Home consultations often take considerably longer to complete than those in an assessment centre.

The mix of home versus assessment centre consultations is not fixed across the country, with some areas more reliant on home consultations than others.

Individual claimant circumstances can also be a factor in causing variation at a local level.

So taken as a whole, significant variation on assessment duration on a case-by-case basis is not uncommon or untoward.”

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

22 August 2019

 

 

Disability Labour crowdfunds costs for conference access hub after party ‘snub’

Disabled delegates who are providing free access and mental health advice and support to delegates at next month’s Labour conference have had to launch an “embarrassing” crowdfunding appeal after they say the party refused to pay for any free accommodation.

At last year’s annual conference in Liverpool, the “disability hub” run by Disability Labour provided support for numerous disabled delegates, with the party paying hotel costs for one volunteer.

The hub played a key role in exposing the disablist actions of right-wing journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, who had mocked the conference safe space on social media.

This year, Disability Labour – which is affiliated to the party – plans to expand the number of volunteers offering support and advice to disabled delegates.

It expects to receive many more requests for support because of the access problems usually faced by disabled visitors to party conferences in Brighton.

Two years ago, when Labour last visited Brighton for its annual conference, many disabled party members spoke of the access problems they faced, including uneven pavements, the shortage of accessible accommodation, and problems with lifts and accessible toilets at the conference centre itself.

But four of the disabled volunteers planning to run the disability hub next month, including Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, need accessible accommodation near the conference centre.

Disability Labour has asked the party to provide two fully-accessible twin rooms for five nights across the week of the conference, with another eight volunteers with lower access needs paying for their own accommodation costs.

But they say the party has so far offered only a free space at the conference for Disability Labour to run the disability hub, even though the volunteers will be providing a free service for disabled delegates.

Disability Labour has been raising the issue with the party for several months.

It originally asked for three accessible rooms in the main conference hotel, which is located beside the conference centre, but when it was presented with a bill for £5,800 it asked if the party could provide two free accessible rooms instead.

At one stage, the party suggested rooms at £150 per night in another hotel, but it was too far from the main conference venue.

Following a breakdown in communications, Disability Labour has now been forced to launch a crowdfunding appeal, asking party members to contribute £3,600 towards its conference costs.

Springfield, who is a clinical nurse specialist, told Disability News Service: “We were staggered when we were told we would have to pay.

It’s really, really embarrassing. We should not be in this position.

We felt in Liverpool last year [that Labour was] really taking disability equality seriously, but with what is happening now, that doesn’t appear to be the case. It is soul destroying.

We had a major success last year. We changed the whole atmosphere around the way delegates were looked after.”

She said Disability Labour had left it until the last minute to launch the crowdfunding appeal in the hope that the party would provide the funding.

Springfield accepted that the dispute would not reflect well on the party.

But she said: “We shouldn’t be in this state. It’s 2019 and the party needs to recognise that the Equality Act needs to be followed and needs to be worked through.

We have people with the skill and abilities to do that and they are preventing it happening.

The party has got the money. I know we have got a general election coming up, but it is not a massive amount of money. And it is all of our income.”

Since last year, several Disability Labour members have been trained in providing mental health first aid, and they will be providing this service to disabled delegates at the conference, as well as providing advice and support on access issues.

Three of them, including Springfield, are trained as access consultants.

In all, Disability Labour will be able to call on three nurses and a psychiatrist if needed for mental health-related issues.

Sarah Taylor, another Disability Labour member who will be volunteering on the hub during the conference, said she was “very disappointed” with the party.

She said: “It is so important that my colleagues have accommodation.

We are supposed to be the party of equality and if we can’t ourselves keep within the terms of the Equality Act and put our money where our mouth is… it’s a sad show.”

After DNS contacted the party’s press office this week, a Labour party spokesperson said: “The Labour party is an inclusive organisation that prides itself on being accessible to all who share its values.”

Yesterday (Wednesday), it released a new statement: “Party officials have been discussing this matter with Disability Labour since July.

Like last year, we have offered to provide them with an accessible hotel room.”

Disability Labour confirmed that a new approach from the party had come hours earlier, after DNS had contacted the press office, and involved an offer of three discounted rooms, two of which were accessible.

None of the rooms would be free, with one being charged at £215 per night and the other two at £235 per night, although Disability Labour would only need two of the rooms, at a total cost of £2,250.

This morning, the party provided an updated statement: “Party officials have been discussing this matter with Disability Labour since July.

The party offered in July to provide Disability Labour with an accessible hotel room free of charge.”

But Kathy Bole, a Labour county councillor in Suffolk, who has been leading discussions with the party, said that at no point had she received an offer of a free, accessible room for this year’s conference.

Labour sources later said that an email offer of a free accessible room was made last month to five members of the Disability Labour executive, although not to Bole.

But Springfield and Disability Labour co-chair Wayne Blackburn denied receiving this offer, while a third member of the executive – who the party claimed had also been copied in on the email – also could not remember receiving such an offer.

22 August 2019

 

 

Citizens Advice signed gagging clause in return for share of £51m from DWP

Two charities that will receive £51 million in government funding to provide advice and support to claimants of universal credit (UC) signed gagging clauses that prevent them bringing the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “unfairly” into “disrepute”.

Both Citizens Advice (CA) and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) signed grant agreements with DWP – worth a total of £51 million – that include the same clause.

By signing the documents, it means they cannot take “any actions which unfairly bring or are likely to unfairly bring [DWP’s] name or reputation and/or [DWP] into disrepute”.

It comes a year after f how several disability charities had signed contracts under the government’s Work and Health Programme that included clauses promising not to bring DWP into disrepute.

Copies of the agreements signed last year by CA and CAS have been obtained from DWP by social welfare activist Frank Zola using the Freedom of Information Act.

He told Disability News Service (DNS) that the grant “does little more than help some people claim universal credit and not address its inherent flaws, it just helps impose UC misery on its service users, through this £51,000,000 bribe.

Citizens Advice provides help to large numbers of those punished by universal credit, such as disabled people and families who have ended up losing thousands of pounds by claiming UC, vast rises in debt, rent arrears, evictions, survival crime, five week delays in first payments and the horror of its inbuilt benefit sanctions and excessive conditionality.

Against this background, does Citizens Advice campaign and advocate for universal credit to be stopped and abolished?

No, it decides to act as a mere duplicitous adjunct of the DWP and even agrees to a grant gagging clause that prevents them from being critical of the DWP.”

He questioned why CA had kept its negotiations over the grant secret, rather than engaging with activists and claimant-led organisations, and the advice and guidance sector, on the best ways to support UC claimants and challenge the “iniquity” of UC. 

He added: “This Citizens Advice grant damages trust in advice and guidance and reinforces the belief that, like charity and third sector collusion and contracts with the DWP Health and Work Programme, it is now part of a shadow state with commercial interests.”

Dr Jay Watts, an activist who raised concerns about the grant when it was announced at last October’s Tory party conference, said: “First of all, I need to make it clear that I think it is important people feel they can still approach Citizens Advice Bureaux which operate independently of head office and provide a vital service in desperate times.

Having said that, many people will feel that CA has made a pact with the devil in accepting money from the government within the context of a contractual arrangement that limits their capacity to speak out against the policies which produce much of the despair they are tasked to help with.

It is simply bad psychology to argue that dissent on government policies which cause such human rights violations won’t be muted at best by the inherent and often unconscious desire not to bite the hand that feeds.”

Rick Burgess, of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, another who raised concerns last October, said: “This gagging clause will cause utter dismay to people, and to those CA staff who see their executive leadership betraying their very ethos.

At a time when the DWP is engaged in massive and ongoing human rights abuse, for the supposed Citizens Advice organisation to be tied into a legal and financial relationship with the abusers is catastrophic for CA’s integrity and for people who need defending from the DWP, and for open democratic oversight of government policies.

It’s a bribe to stay silent.”

Disabled activists raised serious concerns last October about whether the DWP funding would put the independence of CA and CAS at risk, with Watts saying CA had “sold out to the DWP for £51 million after 79 years of independence”.

Just hours after the funding was announced, CA had added to those concerns when it refused to criticise DWP at a party conference fringe event over four deaths that had been linked to universal credit, with the charity’s comments about the UC roll-out appearing to contrast with much stronger criticisms from fellow panellists.

This week, CA confirmed that the agreement with DWP included the “disrepute” clause, but said that all of its “public advocacy work” was “based on evidence and would not be categorised as ‘unfair’” and so the clause “does not affect Citizens Advice’s ability to publicly criticise DWP”. 

A CA spokesperson said the decision not to speak out at last year’s Tory party conference fringe event was not because of the “disrepute” clause.

She added: “We agreed to the clause in the agreement because it does not stop us from speaking out – all of our public advocacy work is based on evidence and would not be categorised as ‘unfair’.”

Gillian Guy, CA’s chief executive, said in a statement: “There is nothing in the grant agreement that prevents us from raising our evidence publicly about the impact universal credit is having on the people who come to us for help. 

Since we signed the grant agreement and have been delivering the service, we’ve published significant pieces of policy work highlighting where improvements can be made to the universal credit system. We will continue to do so. 

Citizens Advice is, and always will be, totally independent from government.”

CAS has declined to confirm that its agreement contained a “disrepute” clause, and that it could potentially affect its public criticism of DWP, and it has also declined to explain why it accepted the clause in the agreement.

But Derek Mitchell, chief executive of CAS, said in a statement: “Citizens Advice Scotland has not, nor would we ever, sign an agreement which would prevent us speaking out on behalf of people we represent.

Nothing in this grant agreement stops us from raising concerns about the impact universal credit is having on the people who turn to us for help.  

Universal credit has been one of our major public advocacy issues and we have highlighted concerns around the five week waiting time, the deductions from universal credit which result from advance loans and the digital first aspect negatively impacting claimants.

We highlighted these concerns as a result of robust analysis of the evidence from our client base across Scotland, which is how we deliver advocacy. 

We will continue to use that evidence base to campaign for a better system for the people we help, and we will always do so independent of government.”

15 August 2019

 

 

EHRC proposals on a new right to independent living: Welcome for draft plans

Leading disabled campaigners have welcomed draft proposals by the equality watchdog that would provide a new legal right to independent living for disabled people.

A legal right to independent living is one of the key demands of the disabled people’s movement, and if introduced through legislation should see the UK comply for the first time with article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities called on the UK to recognise disabled people’s right to live independently, and said it was “going backwards” on independent living.

It warned that disabled people were “not able to choose where to live, with whom to live and how to live… [they] are still facing the risk of institutionalisation and not being able to live within the community.”

Now the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says there is “growing evidence of regression in relation to the right of disabled people to live independently as part of their communities”.

It has produced a working paper with six “key elements” that together could “incorporate the right to independent living into domestic law”.

These six elements include a new duty on public bodies like local councils to aim to meet the requirements of article 19; a legal presumption that accommodation should be provided in the community, with care and support to enable “community or home living”; and a ban on building new “institutional” accommodation.

The commission has been working on its plans since at least November 2017 and is still “refining” its proposals.

As part of its development of the working paper, it has been consulting members of the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG)*.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, ILSG’s chair, said: “The ILSG welcomes the paper, which we helped to develop over the past 18 months, in one of our many attempts to strengthen disabled people’s right to independent living.

The EHRC and the ILSG will continue to collaborate on a number of ways to bring about a statutory right to independent living and [want] to work with anyone to this end.” 

Dr Miro Griffiths, a researcher, adviser and campaigner on disability rights and a member of EHRC’s disability advisory committee (DAC), said: “As the EHRC has noted in recent years, there are widespread concerns that disabled people’s right to independent living is being eroded.”

He said the commission’s proposals would build on the UN committee’s recommendations and “go some way to protect independent living against the ever-changing political, economic, and social objectives of the state”.

But he said any changes would also have to ensure that guidance and interpretation of the new laws by policy-makers would be developed “in line with the ideas, values, and aspirations of the disabled people’s movement”.

He said he was supportive of the direction of the work so far, but that it was essential that the commission “continues to take guidance from the DAC, and others, as the proposals develop”.

Becki Meakin, general manager of Shaping Our Lives (SOL), who has been involved in the ILSG discussions, said it was “very disappointing that disabled people’s right to live in the community, a right that most people would not question, has to be protected by legal measures”.

She said SOL supported the EHRC proposals, but she warned that disabled people had found it “extremely difficult” to use other legislation, such as the Care Act, to defend their rights.

She said: “A key problem is that disabled people will often not have access to legal aid and not have sufficient money to hire the necessary legal support to challenge a local authority in court.”

She said any new laws would need to be accompanied by investment in disabled people’s organisations so they could advocate for disabled people relying on the new legislation, and support for disabled people so they have “the best possible chance of defending their right to choice and control on where and how they want to live”.

Meakin said: “Shaping Our Lives has been raising awareness of the crisis of user-led organisations and the many closures of local groups that provide a collective voice for disabled people and those from diverse communities.

Without a strong network of local user-led organisations, disabled people may still experience too many barriers to independent living and have no means to defending it.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of SOL, said there also needed to be more attention paid in the proposals to the diversity of disabled people, particularly mental health survivors.

He said: “Given that more and more survivors are being especially penalised by welfare reform and coming under the control and compulsory provisions of mental health legislation, it would be good if more attention could be paid to this highly problematic and contentious area.

This especially given that we know that this discriminates particularly against some black and minority ethnic groups.”

He suggested a wider consultation by EHRC with disabled people and their organisations, including SOL.

Sue Bott, head of policy and research for Disability Rights UK, said: “Ideally we would like to see the rights enshrined in the UNCRPD brought into domestic legislation but failing that, the measures put forward by the EHRC would go a long way towards realising our right to independent living.”

She said the proposals “would pretty much do it in term of a right to independent living, but the wording in UNCRPD article 19 is more explicit in the scope of what we need. 

As we have seen with the public sector equality duty, there is always a doubt and room for interpretation in a public sector duty.”

And she added: “It’s not just about resources – many community solutions are in fact cheaper.

It’s about a change in attitudes and a recognition that disabled people should have the same rights as everyone else.”

*The Independent Living Strategy Group works to protect and promote disabled people’s rights to independent living in England. Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.

15 August 2019

 

 

EHRC proposals on a new right to independent living: Six key elements

The equality and human rights watchdog has described six key elements that it believes would be needed to enable disabled people in the UK to have a legal right to independent living.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been examining whether there needs to be a legal right to independent living since at least November 2017.

Last year, a barrister commissioned by the watchdog concluded that there did need to be such a legal right.

EHRC has been developing a working paper describing how this could be achieved, although it is still “refining” its proposals.

Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities called on the UK to recognise disabled people’s right to live independently, and said it was “going backwards” on independent living.

The committee has recommended that article 19 (on independent living) of the UN disability convention should be incorporated into UK domestic law.

In the working paper, EHRC says it agrees with this recommendation, but believes there is “no single way” to do this.

Instead, a “mixture of provisions with duties and rights of varying strength, levels and breadth is likely to be required”.

It believes there would be six “key elements” to how this could be done.

The first would be to create a new duty on certain public bodies, such as local authorities and NHS clinical commissioning groups, to act with the aim of meeting the requirements of article 19.

Secondly, there would be a legal presumption that accommodation should be provided in the community, with care and support to enable community or home living, as long as this was in line with the disabled person’s wishes.

Disabled people should also be able to decline care (or elements of that support), “even if others may think those care elements are best for their well-being”, and they should have that wish respected.

There should also be a ban on the building of new “institutional” accommodation, although the working paper does not currently recommend that existing institutions should be shut down.

The fifth element is for local authorities, and central government, to carry out a regular assessment of unmet need for accommodation, support and care in the community, probably every two years.

The final “key element” would be to set up a new independent body to enforce the right to independent living and decide if local authorities have “discharged their obligations”.

The working paper also attempts to define institutional accommodation, suggesting that it is a setting where residents are isolated from the broader community; or live with people other than those they have chosen to live with; or where they do not have control over their day-to-day lives and the decisions which affect them; or where the interests of the organisation itself “tend to take precedence over the residents’ individualised needs or wishes”.

Although the working paper has not yet been published on the commission’s website, it was submitted quietly in April as evidence to the parliamentary joint committee on human rights, for its ongoing inquiry into the inappropriate detention of young autistic people and young people with learning difficulties.

Leading figures in the independent living movement have given the proposals a generally positive welcome (see separate story), while some of them have been working with the commission on its proposals.

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “The evidence shows that the rights of disabled and older people to live in their communities are at risk. 

Disabled people often feel like second-class citizens, and many are sadly faced with little choice but to move into institutions. They are often left feeling ostracised.  

We need a transformative solution that reaffirms our commitment to ensuring that everyone can live as part of their community where no one is forced out of the place they call home.

We are confident that our solution will protect the right of many more people to live in their communities and we would welcome a national conversation to take our proposal forward.”

15 August 2019

 

 

Mystery over sharp drop in disabled people’s unemployment rate

Striking – but unexplained – new official figures suggest there has been a large fall over the last year in the proportion of disabled people who are unemployed.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that the percentage of disabled people counted as unemployed dropped to 7.3 per cent of those who were economically active (those seeking employment and available to start work) in April-June 2019.

This compares with an unemployment rate of 8.8 per cent during the same time period in 2018, and a rate that was as high as 13.5 per cent in 2013.

The proportion of those economically inactive (not available for work) fell slightly over the same period, from 44.4 per cent of working-age disabled people to 43.3 per cent.

It means there has been a fall of about 17 per cent in the unemployment rate among economically-active disabled people in just a year, while the unemployment rate for non-disabled people actually rose slightly from 3.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent over the same period.

The figures (see table A08) are likely to raise questions about the impact of the government’s welfare reforms on disabled people, and whether the fall could be linked in some way to the introduction of the much-criticised universal credit benefit system.

There will also be questions over whether the fall was at least partly due to increasing numbers of disabled people being forced into self-employment and part-time jobs (of at least one hour a week), or government training and jobs programmes. ONS includes all three in its measure of “employment”.

Figures secured from ONS last year by Inclusion London showed that nearly half of the increase in disability employment in the previous four years – between 2013-14 and 2017-18 – had been due to disabled people becoming self-employed or taking part-time jobs of as little as one hour a week.

Mike Smith, a former commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and now chief executive of the east London disabled people’s organisation Real, said: “I don’t believe the employment environment has suddenly become more welcoming.

I suspect some employers are getting better, but it might also be because people on the periphery of struggling to work are struggling even more to survive on benefits, and so have been pushed into work.

What the stats don’t tell you is anything about the quality of the work, the wage levels, the hours of work, the job security, etcetera.”

There was also a call for research into the cause of the fall by Manchester-based Breakthrough UK, a disabled people’s organisation which provides employment support for disabled people.

Peter Jackson, Breakthrough UK’s deputy chief executive, said the figures needed “more scrutiny” and research to identify what had caused the fall in the unemployment rate, including whether the rollout of the government’s universal credit benefits system was playing a role.

He said: “Somebody needs to drill down into that data to get a better understanding of the impact of the very diverse range of factors involved.”

He added: “We have not seen any significant difference in terms of the employment market and the experiences of our clients on our employment programmes.

Our experience in working with disabled people who we are supporting to secure employment in the open jobs market has not changed. It is still very challenging.

People are generally experiencing the same types of barriers.”

He said there had been increasing contact from employers who have signed up to the government’s Disability Confident employment programme.

He said: “It’s certainly got traction from employers.”

But he added: “Whether that gets translated into real outcomes impacting on their workforce is an entirely different matter.”

Jackson also compared the ONS figures with his own day-to-day experiences in Manchester.

He said: “If you walk the streets of Manchester on any given day, the level of deprivation and marginalisation is slapping you in the face.

The number of homeless people sleeping in shop doorways – that is my barometer in terms of how well the economy is functioning.”

Asked to explain the striking fall in the unemployment rate, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The number of disabled people in employment is the highest on record, showing great progress towards making our workplaces more inclusive and ensuring those disabled people who want to work are given the opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling career.

By encouraging employers to become Disability Confident and providing more funding than ever before for the Access to Work scheme we are removing barriers so that more businesses can reap the rewards of being inclusive and more disabled people can find and stay in work.

Though welcome, the reasons for the improving disability employment rate are complex so it is impossible to put this down to one cause.”

15 August 2019

 

 

Anger and collective action’ secure ‘success’ for Peterloo access campaign

A grassroots campaign that “harnessed the anger, determination and collective action” of disabled people in Manchester has secured a council promise that they will have full access to a new memorial to the victims of the Peterloo massacre.

The council-funded memorial is currently completely inaccessible to many disabled people, even though it was designed to be used as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, mirroring those who spoke during the protest in 1819 that led to the massacre*.

But following months of campaigning, and weekly vigils by disabled activists, Manchester City Council has now agreed make the monument “fully accessible”, ensuring that “everyone can reach the top”.

It has also agreed that no-one will speak from the inaccessible memorial during events tomorrow (Friday) that will mark the 200th anniversary of the massacre.

Instead, the council says the monument will be used as “the backdrop to the event rather than the centrepiece or any sort of platform for performance”, although disabled activists say they will go further and creatively “obscure the memorial from view” for at least part of the day.

The memorial was unveiled quietly earlier this week without a civic ceremony.

Some of the disabled campaigners who have protested over its discriminatory design were at the site again yesterday to inspect the memorial with artist Jeremy Deller, following a meeting with the council.

They say the council is now looking at two options: incorporating a ramp into the design – the solution favoured by disabled campaigners – or installing a platform-style chair lift, which appears to be the council’s favoured option.

Both options will be examined by the architects that have worked on the memorial with Deller.

The council originally insisted that it was unlikely that any “fundamental changes” would be made to the inaccessible memorial, but later backed down in the face of the campaign.

Disabled campaigners are now hoping that a new, fully accessible version of the memorial will be completed in time for the 201st anniversary of the massacre, in August 2020.

A public consultation on designs for the new version of the memorial will begin soon, with the hope that it will be “meaningful, accessible and transparent”.

Dennis Queen, from Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, said the decision to reveal the memorial with no ceremony or gathering was “a welcome sign of good faith from a local authority that really is suitably concerned about the whole scandal and will try to fix this error by retrofit”.

She said it was a shame the council had not taken seriously the early concerns that were raised by disabled people about the memorial.

She said: “A lesson must be learned here. Listen to disabled people.

Disabled people have a strong, radical local movement which has fought hard for involvement in and consideration from our local authority.”

She said the campaign showed that disabled people would take action if they were excluded from local politics in Manchester.

Queen said: “Peterloo left a legacy of strong radical activism and that affected disabled people too. 

The Peterloo memorial will be a centre point for all local activism for, we hope, at least the next 200 years. We will join in. Invited or not.”

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said the campaign would only be viewed as a success if the council agreed to sign a joint statement confirming its commitment to consult fully on any access design solutions and providing a timetable for work to be completed in time for the 201st anniversary.

He said: “Obviously, GMCDP is proud to have been involved in such a powerful grassroots campaign that has harnessed the anger, determination, and collective action of disabled people.

It is a campaign that has raised the profile of our exclusion, through our initial protest, weekly vigils, coverage in the media and subsequent constructive meetings with the council, architects and artist Jeremy Deller.

Although disabled people had been telling the council that its plans for the memorial were flawed, since they were first unveiled last November, it is only really in the last three months that this campaign has really found its voice.

Although we are reluctant to talk of ‘success’ just yet, a turning point obviously in the campaign came when the council bowed to pressure and announced they were committed to making the memorial ‘fully accessible’.”

But he said the campaign was “far from over”.

Hilton said: “Our aim is that by working with the artist Jeremy Deller, an elegant design solution will be found that not only provides full access to the memorial but also enhances what has already been built.

The steps tell the story of those massacred on St Peter’s Fields 200 years ago.

Perhaps [a ramp would] tell a different story, but fundamentally our struggle is the same, a fight for liberty and equality that disabled people are all too familiar with.”

The memorial is positioned near what was known in 1819 as St Peter’s Fields, the site of the massacre, and is outside the current Manchester Central Convention Centre, which in a few weeks will host the Conservative party’s annual conference.

A spokesperson for the city council said: “The council has acknowledged that the innovative and imaginative interpretation of the design brief, with a greater emphasis on interaction than originally envisaged for a public artwork, meant that not enough consideration was initially given to accessible design issues. 

We have listened to, and engaged with, the concerns of disability access campaigners who have raised this issue, and we are committed to making the monument fully accessible – so that everyone can reach the top.

Details of a proposal for how this will be achieved are being finalised and will be announced in the next few days.

Both the council and Jeremy Deller are determined that the solution will be of the highest design quality and make a positive contribution to the overall appearance of the memorial as well as its accessibility, and dialogue will continue.

The memorial will be there in its current form in the short term – enabling it to form a backdrop to the 200th anniversary commemorations – with the modification taking place afterwards.”

Meanwhile, tomorrow’s events to mark the 200th anniversary will include three performances of From The Crowd, which will include eyewitness accounts of those present at Peterloo intertwined with the words of contemporary poets and protesters, including some of the disabled activists who campaigned to ensure an accessible memorial.

Disabled activists are set to “obscure the memorial from view creatively” during the three performances.

Between the three shows, the memorial will be visible for the public to explore.

Disabled campaigners have also issued an appeal for solidarity to other campaign groups not to use the inaccessible top of the memorial as a platform during future rallies over the next 12 months.

They have produced a large banner with a solidarity pledge that allies can sign during From The Crowd.

The pledge commits allies to rally at the bottom of the memorial with disabled people, until everyone can “rally at the top together”.

*On 16 August 1819, paramilitary and military forces attacked more than 60,000 peaceful pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters in Manchester, which led to 18 deaths and an estimated 700 serious injuries, in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre

15 August 2019

 

 

Picnics – not work – are a health outcome, say activists

A new campaign aims to force the government to scrap its insistence that finding a job or returning to work is an important health “outcome” for those with mental distress.

The claim that stable employment is “an important outcome for recovery for people with a mental health problem” angered members of the mental health survivor movement after it appeared in January’s NHS Long Term Plan (pdf).

Now the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) has launched a new campaign aimed at persuading the government to drop the claim from the document.

It marked the start of its campaign with a free picnic in Hyde Park yesterday (Wednesday), despite torrential rain, which it called Picnics Are A Health Outcome and which it hopes will also reinvigorate the mental health survivor community.

MHRN believes that the mental health system is now designed “to get people off benefits and to make sure people don’t take too long off work”, particularly through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.

Disabled activists have been warning for several years of the government’s increasing emphasis on linking health and job outcomes.

When the government launched its work, health and disability strategy in December 2017, disabled campaigners criticised this “cruel” and “unacceptable” emphasis.

Among the strategy’s plans were to more than double the number of employment advisers sent in to work within IAPT services, which provide treatment for people with anxiety and depression.

The strategy also revealed that the government was running trials to test different ways of delivering “joined up health and work support” in settings such as GP surgeries.

Now MHRN has launched a campaign to fight back at the increasing emphasis on the idea of work as a mental health outcome.

Denise McKenna, an MHRN co-founder, said: “We have nothing against work; we are all for good employment.

But we believe that should not be the goal for mental health services. They should be helping people to relieve people of their mental distress.

When people go to see a therapist now, they know that the therapist has an ulterior motive.”

This focus on employment is combined with a strong target-driven culture, she said, leading to people with severe and enduring mental health problems being unable to secure specialist mental health treatment because they are unable to return to work.

MHRN believes that this “ulterior motive” of therapists destroys the relationship of trust between service-user and service-provider.

McKenna said: “The whole back-to-work thing has completely destroyed mental health services.”

The treatment options are either cognitive behavioural therapy, through IAPT, or heavy doses of drugs, she said.

She added: “Our objection is that work is something that is separate from treatment for mental health.

This is basically denying people proper treatment for mental health. All they are getting is behavioural changes to force them temporarily into work.”

McKenna said MHRN also believed that it was time to “start rebuilding our community”, after the closure of day centres and other cuts and reforms to mental health services that have left many members of the survivor community isolated.

She said: “The government have done everything in their power to smash the survivor community.

The idea is that we are a community, and this [event] is a good starting point.”

15 August 2019

 

 

Tribunal decision ‘could deter companies’ from building more institutions

A tribunal’s decision that a care provider should not be allowed to build a new residential home because it would look “institutional” and too much like a hospital has been welcomed by autistic rights campaigners and a leading self-advocacy organisation.

The tribunal ruled (pdf) in favour of the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) decision to refuse an application for the new facility in Walsall on the site of a former NHS campus, submitted by Lifeways Community Care and backed by Walsall council.

CQC decided last year to block the development – of ensuite bedrooms and three self-contained flats for nine autistic people and people with learning difficulties, with some communal facilities – because it would produce a “campus”-type setting.

National guidance says campus-style or congregate services* are not in the best interests of people with learning difficulties and autistic people and do not promote their right to choice, independence and inclusion.

Lifeways already has six supported living flats on the site in Spring Lane, and CQC argued that the new service would be too big and would not promote integration with the local community.

CQC told the tribunal that the proposed service was “not small-scale, is not domestic in style and is clearly different to the houses in the local area” and had the “appearance of a care facility, not of typical housing”, with “some features of a campus.”

It added: “The outcomes of this service model have been demonstrated to be less good for people with learning disabilities than is a model based on people with learning disabilities living in the same sort of ordinary places as everyone else.”

But the development was supported by Walsall council, whose lead commissioner Ian Staples told the tribunal that he was “under pressure to get people out of hospital”.

He accepted that he was taking “a professional risk by supporting something that doesn’t toe the line”.

Staples told the tribunal: “I accept [it] is bigger than six beds and there is a risk.

Ideally we would look at six, but I had 12 to 15 people looking for places and I didn’t have other sites available, so I made an informed decision and looked at the risks.”

But the health, education and social care first-tier tribunal unanimously decided that it was “obvious the proposed care home had an institutional look to it and clearly had characteristics of a campus style setting which stood out and was apart from the surrounding neighbourhood”, and that it was “completely inappropriate”. 

The tribunal also said the development would create “unacceptable and serious risks to service users in the provision of care”.

Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people, welcomed the tribunal ruling.

She said: “Autistic advocates and allies have been campaigning for decades to stop the segregation of autistic and learning disabled people away from their larger communities.

It is disheartening to see that these sorts of institutions are still in operation in some places and that care companies still attempt to open them because they are more profitable. 

However, we at Autistic UK anticipate that the CQC’s firm stance on denying applications for these places will deter companies from attempting to build them in the first place.

Isolating people from their communities is inhumane treatment and violates our right to live full and happy lives, whatever level of support any individual requires.

Living in our larger communities is the first and critical step to being accepted and fully included.”

Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns at People First (Self Advocacy), also welcomed the CQC stance and the tribunal’s “important decision”.

He said: “Institutions have no place in independent living in the 21st century. 

These kinds of institutions prevent access to living, choice, control and independence and this gives a strong message to care providers about what is not acceptable. 

It is these kinds of high-profile decisions that help to put the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into practice. 

It says that being locked up and excluded from society is not supported by the CQC. 

Now what we need, moving forward, is to see commissioners and local authority decision makers getting on board with this approach to meeting the care and support needs of people with learning difficulties.”

CQC said it was an “important judgement” because it “further clarifies what is an acceptable care setting”.

Lifeways confirmed that it would not appeal the tribunal’s decision.

A Lifeways spokesperson refused to say if it would stop building such settings for disabled people, and why it attempted to open such a service when it would breach both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and national guidance.

But he said in a statement: “Lifeways are disappointed by the tribunal decision, as we felt strongly that the homes we are providing are of a high standard, meet the needs of local people, and also meet the principles of Registering the Right Support [the CQC guidance], principles that we support.

The homes were developed in close collaboration with the local authority, who are clear that they meet the needs of the people in the borough.

We will continue to work with both commissioners and the CQC to ensure that future developments are of a high quality and meet the needs of the people we support.”

A Walsall council spokesperson said: “After being fully engaged by Lifeways in the development of their plans, Walsall council did not consider the application to be for an ‘institutional-type’ setting and therefore not contrary to national guidance.”

Cllr Rose Martin, the council’s portfolio holder for adult social care, added: “Walsall council is fully committed to developing alternatives to institutional settings and promoting independent living.

Walsall currently has over 84 per cent of adults with learning disabilities in receipt of a care package living with family or in their own homes, which is well above the national average.

The application by Lifeways was in response to local need, a nine bed registration presented as two three bed bungalows and three flats with some communal areas.

For some individuals, on their journey to their own accommodation, a period of living with others can be beneficial and taken in a local context is reasonable and in line with the Care Act requirement of providing choice and a range of provision.”

*CQC guidance (pdf) defines campuses as “group homes clustered together on the same site and usually sharing staff and some facilities”, and congregate settings as “separate from communities and without access to the options, choices, dignity and independence that most people take for granted in their lives”

15 August 2019

 

 

Anger over Unum sponsorship of ‘Superhero’ triathlon event

A retired Paralympian organising a mass participation disability sports event has defended accepting sponsorship from a company that spent years lobbying the government to make the out-of-work disability benefits regime harsher and more stressful.

Unum has signed up as one of the sponsors of next week’s high-profile Superhero Tri event in Windsor – which will be televised by Channel 4 – and will be “providing lots of staff volunteers”.

But Unum spent years pushing reforms that have been closely linked to the deaths of many claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) and to harming the physical and mental health of many others.

Disabled researchers and activists have previously shown how Unum spent years undermining the social security system in order to boost the market for its own income protection insurance policies*.

Now it is sponsoring the Superhero Series events launched by marketing specialist Sophia Warner, who competed for ParalympicsGB on the track at London 2012.

Among those disabled celebrities set to take part in next week’s mass participation triathlon event are the BBC’s Frank Gardner, Paralympian Menna Fitzpatrick and TV presenter JJ Chalmers.

When asked by Disability News Service (DNS) if she knew that Unum had spent decades attempting to influence government policy on welfare reform, Warner said: “Yep.”

And when told that disabled activists had questioned Unum’s sponsorship of the Superhero Tri event because of its disturbing lobbying activities, she said: “I’m afraid I don’t really get involved with disabled activists. We’re all about positivity at Superhero Series.”

When DNS suggested that disabled activists were also “all about positivity” through their push for disability rights and equality, she said: “Um… what I’m going to do is I’m going to end this call, and thank you very much.”

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which has spent nearly a decade highlighting the harmful impact of the reforms promoted by Unum, said it was appalled at the sponsorship and Warner’s comments.

And Mo Stewart, the independent researcher who has done most to raise concerns about Unum’s influence on welfare reform**, said she was “deeply concerned” that Warner had been aware of Unum’s history of lobbying the government on welfare reform and yet still agreed the sponsorship.

She said Unum had been “instrumental in helping to create the preventable harm now endured by the UK’s chronically ill and disabled community who are unfit to work.

The company have been advising the British government since 1992 on how to limit access to out-of-work disability benefits for those in greatest need, in the expectation that a reduced UK welfare state will encourage the able-bodied community to purchase their discredited disability insurance policies.”

Stewart said the sponsorship was “a very good public relations exercise” for the company and “a distraction from past negative publicity”.

She said: “There have been many thousands of deaths linked to the work capability assessment (WCA), which was introduced in October 2008 and was made possible by the influence of Unum with the British government.

Those chronically ill and disabled people who died following the flawed WCA weren’t athletes, and it’s most regrettable to learn that some of those who enjoy the peak of physical fitness can disregard the fate of those in greatest need.”

Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Sophia Warner’s understanding of rights and equality is dangerously deficient.

Had previous generations of disabled people been as blasé about the realities of oppression, we wouldn’t now have Paralympians able to compete on a public stage.

Her typecasting of activists as negative is ironic given that we are the ones engaged in building a positive future where everyone will be free to develop their personal potential and be valued in society.

Meanwhile, Warner is actively facilitating a deeply damaging agenda based on denial of opportunity to people with impairments.”

She added: “We anticipate a new promotional campaign pushing Unum’s income protection insurance coming soon…”

Bob Ellard, a fellow DPAC steering group member, said: “The thought of disabled people dressing up in superhero costumes for the ‘inspiration’ of the TV viewing public makes me want to vomit.

Add to that taking funding from Unum, a company notorious for disability denial and influencing government welfare cuts for disabled people, Channel 4 should be ashamed of themselves and Sophia Warner should be ashamed of herself for this act of deplorable Uncle Tom-ism.” 

*Unum’s links with the UK government date back to the 1990s, when Peter Lilley, social security secretary in John Major’s Conservative government, hired senior Unum executive John LoCascio to offer advice on how to cut the number of claimants of long-term sickness benefits. 

A submission to the Commons work and pensions committee in 2002 by a director of Unum – then known as UnumProvident – called on the Labour government to “ensure both that work always pays more than benefits, and more importantly that it is clearly seen to do so”.

And in 2005, Unum bragged in a document that it had “always been at the leading edge of disability assessment and management”, and that government policy was now “moving in the same direction” as “our views and understanding” and was “to a large extent being driven by our thinking and that of our close associates”.

Three years later, in 2008, the Labour government introduced the WCA.

In 2011, Unum launched a major UK marketing campaign to promote the need for income protection insurance policies, just as the coalition began its three-year programme to reassess about 1.5 million existing claimants of old-style incapacity benefit through the new WCA.

Unum has repeatedly dismissed claims that it pushed the government to introduce the WCA system, and three years ago even claimed that it “never has lobbied on the topic of welfare reform or related matters”.

**Stewart’s book, Cash Not Care, details Unum’s influence over successive UK governments, and how it led to the introduction of the WCA

8 August 2019

 

 

Proportion of flawed Atos PIP assessment reports has soared in last two years

The proportion of disability assessment reports completed by government contractor Atos that were found to be significantly flawed has soared by more than 40 per cent in the last two years.

The percentage of substandard Atos* personal independence payment (PIP) reports rose from about 25 per cent in 2016-17 to more than 36 per cent in 2018-19, according to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.

They show the results of government audits carried out on thousands of Atos reports over the two years from 2016-17.

They were provided to the SNP MP Marion Fellows in May in response to a written parliamentary question, but have only just emerged.

And they show how the performance of Atos – which has been the target of angry protests by disabled activists for most of the last decade over the way it carries out benefit assessments – has worsened over the last two years, despite a public pledge to improve.

The figures emerged after data secured through the Freedom of Information Act by campaign John Slater showed that the proportion of substandard PIP reports completed by the other assessment contractor, Capita, reached 37 per cent in the 2018 calendar year.

In December 2017, a senior Atos executives told a committee of MPs that quality was the company’s “absolute prime target and prime focus” and that he would be “not happy at all until 100 per cent of the cases are deemed to be acceptable and pass those criteria”.

Although the proportion of audited reports that were of such poor quality that they were rated “unacceptable” fell slightly the year after those comments, the figures show Atos is still failing to meet its DWP target of ensuring that a maximum of three per cent of reports are unacceptable, six years after it first began carrying out PIP assessments.

In 2016-17, 4.7 per cent were unacceptable, the following year that rose to 5.3 per cent, and in 2018-19 it fell to 4.3 per cent, still well above three per cent.

But the figures also show how many reports were graded as not being bad enough to be unacceptable but still so flawed that there was “learning required” by the healthcare professional who wrote it, and those where the report needed to be amended because of even more serious flaws.

The proportion of reports that were unacceptable, “learning required” or needed amendments rose from 25 per cent in 2016-17, to 32 per cent in 2017-18 and again to 36 per cent in 2018-19.

The Capita figures secured by Slater showed 3.9 per cent of its audited reports in the 2018 calendar year were graded unacceptable, with 17 per cent learning required and 16 per cent needing to be amended, giving a total of 37 per cent substandard (against 36 per cent in 2018-19 for Atos).

Capita has previously refused to say if its audit data showed there were still serious concerns about its performance, and if this was deteriorating, and it has refused to comment on the audit results.

Capita carried out about 220,000 face-to-face assessments in 2018, compared with more than 730,000 by Atos.

If the audit results were representative of all the assessments carried out by Atos and Capita, then an estimated 375,000 disabled people would have had their claims decided in 2018 based on assessment reports that were significantly flawed.

And about 40,000 of those would have been decided on reports that would have been declared “unacceptable” if they had been audited.

Slater said: “Considering that Capita and Atos promised to improve the quality of their reports, these figures don’t reflect organisations that have delivered on their promises.

It’s likely that both have tried to improve the quality of reports but have failed to do so.”

He said he believed this was due to poor retention of assessors, trouble with recruiting staff with the correct attitude and experience, and the need to make its PIP assessment contracts profitable.

Slater said there were also “time pressures” to “keep up with the volume of referrals [from DWP], which means that assessors are put under extreme pressure to turn around reports quickly and so quality suffers.

This would also explain why retention is an issue as people don’t last long in these environments.”

He added: “Obviously we don’t know what pressure the DWP is applying to Capita and Atos but improving the quality of reports doesn’t seem to be top of the list.”

Anita Bellows, a researcher for Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “What is revealed by these audit figures is that a large number of unacceptable reports, of reports so bad that learning is required from the assessors who compiled them, or which need to be amended to rectify serious flaws, have been used to inform decisions about disability benefit entitlement.

That should go a long way to explain why so many PIP initial decisions are overturned by tribunals. 

The DWP should make sure that all reports are of an adequate standard, as the consequences of using sub-standard reports can be devastating for claimants.”  

DWP refused to say if it accepted that the quality of PIP assessment reports had deteriorated between 2016 and 2018; why it believed this had happened; and what action was being taken to correct it.

But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We want the PIP assessment process to work well for everyone and are continuously improving the service delivered.

We set providers challenging targets and regularly monitor their performance in order to ensure that they are delivering to the highest possible standard.

The majority of people assessed for PIP are satisfied with their experience and the number of complaints received by providers equates to less than one per cent of the total number of people assessed.”

An Atos spokesperson refused to say if the company would apologise for the deterioration in quality since it promised to improve; or explain why this had happened; or what action it would take to improve.

But he said in a statement: “The majority of these cases are deemed as acceptable by DWP and the proportion of cases found ‘unacceptable’ is decreasing, therefore conflating categories that are classed as acceptable with those that are not is unhelpful and misleading.”

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

8 August 2019

 

 

Air travel regulator ‘has been doing half a job by ignoring airlines’

By Fleur Perry

The aviation regulator is only doing “half the job” by reporting on access at airports but failing to carry out similar investigations into whether airlines are meeting their legal duties to disabled customers, it has been claimed.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is responsible for monitoring UK compliance with European Union (EU) laws on the accessibility of air travel, but it has so far failed to report on whether airlines are meeting these duties. 

EU regulations (EC1107/2006) have provided disabled people with a right to assistance at airports for more than a decade.

But the regulations also apply to airlines, which have legal duties to provide assistance on board flights, such as support to and from the toilet, and providing information about the flight in advance in an accessible format. 

CAA was appointed by the government to enforce the EU regulations in the UK in 2015, and is tasked with taking the necessary measures “to ensure that the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility (PRM) are respected”.

But although CAA has reported on the accessibility of airports since 2016, it has yet to publish information on how individual airlines are complying with the regulations. 

And although it has published guidance (PDF) for airports in complying with the regulations, CAA has failed so far to publish similar advice for airlines.

The regulator’s fourth annual report on airport accessibility, published last month, found more than half of disabled people surveyed said they found travelling by air difficult, with concerns about poor customer service, long waiting times and a lack of awareness of disabled people’s needs. 

David Gillon, the disability rights activist who raised the concerns about CAA’s failure to monitor the performance of airlines, said: “Monitoring the performance of UK airports in delivering passenger assistance is a welcome step forward by CAA, one that has revealed that some major airports are probably failing their legal obligations, but that’s only half the job, and the other half of the job is where the worst passenger assistance failures happen.

Wheelchairs aren’t the only thing at risk when disabled people travel by air. 

There are frequent cases of disabled passengers being left abandoned on empty airliners, or where cabin crew have failed to understand their needs.

In the worst cases, disabled people have been seriously injured by inadequately trained assistance staff. 

Yet these failures are either the responsibility of the airline, or fall into the grey area where how airports and airlines divide their passenger assistance responsibilities doesn’t match the division within the legislation.

Again, there is a clear risk of the CAA failing to adequately capture problems even for the monitoring of airports they are doing, and no chance of them recording problems happening in flight, when they simply don’t monitor the performance of airlines.” 

There have been repeated examples of disabled people reporting distressing treatment by airlines.

Last month, a local newspaper reported how Thomas Cook apologised for the treatment of a wheelchair-user on a flight to Newcastle from Turkey, after she was left in agony when a member of airline staff tried to pick her up by her legs.

On arrival in Newcastle, she saw her wheelchair thrown onto a trolley, with luggage piled on top of it – leaving it severely damaged – and was left on the plane without any support, before a member of staff shouted at her as she tried to leave the plane by shuffling on her bottom to the exit.

Earlier this year, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how airline Flybe was forced to apologise to a disabled woman after it charged her extra to reserve a seat next to her for her carer, and then refused to refund the charge.

And in June, Channel 4 presenter Sophie Morgan, a wheelchair-user, described how she was left unassisted for 45 minutes during a 12-hour flight from Argentina to Heathrow with no way of contacting a flight attendant.

She eventually resorted to sliding headsets down the aisle to attract the attention of a member of the British Airways cabin staff.

A CAA spokesperson told DNS: “When we were given responsibility for overseeing the aviation industry’s compliance with accessibility regulations, our focus was on airports rather than airlines.  

Airports play a larger role in ensuring a PRM’s journey runs smoothly. It was important for us to ensure airports were in compliance before we turned our attention to airlines.” 

He said that “that work with airlines has now begun and we will be publishing further information going forward.

We are currently working on an airline accessibility framework allowing us to provide further guidance to industry on meeting obligations under EC1107/2006. 

This framework will also assess current compliance and promote best practice. We expect to consult on the framework early next year and publish the guidance after that.”

8 August 2019

 

 

Would-be MP ‘motivated to oust Duncan Smith by late mother’s benefits ordeal’

The politician aiming to oust Iain Duncan Smith at the next general election has described being motivated by the need to expose the “heartless” reforms he introduced as work and pensions secretary, and their impact on her late mother.

Labour’s Dr Faiza Shaheen said she wanted to win the Chingford and Woodford Green seat at the next general election in part because of the impact on disabled people of the government’s austerity cuts and reforms over the last decade.

Many of these were introduced by Duncan Smith when leading the Department for Work and Pensions between 2010 and 2016.

She was speaking at an event in central London held to launch a new book* by disabled journalist Frances Ryan, which investigates the impact of austerity on disabled people.

Shaheen said she was also partly motivated in her campaign to win the seat by witnessing her mother – who died in 2017 – spend years fighting for the disability benefits and social care she needed.

She said: “Cleaning up her house, one of the most depressing things was finding all of the letters, just all of the admin in her last few years of her life that she had to do to fight for her benefits, to fight for social care. It was just heart-breaking.”

Shaheen has previously told the Huffington Post how her mother had faced a “fit for work” assessment to decide her eligibility for universal credit, the much-criticised new benefit system introduced by Duncan Smith when he was work and pensions secretary.

She told the Huffington Post last year that Duncan Smith had “wreaked so much havoc on people’s lives” and symbolised “so much cruelty and heartlessness”. 

She told Saturday’s event that she was struck by how few people in his constituency knew about “what the Tories have done and specifically what their MP has done”.

She said there was “a lot more we need to do for people to understand and realise just how cruel the state has been”.

Shaheen said on Twitter after Saturday’s event: “Court rulings, damning UN reports, suicides – the welfare ‘reforms’ brought in since 2010, instigated by my rival Iain Duncan Smith, have not only been heartless, but a costly shambles.

Tories need to be held accountable for this and so much more.”

She added: “Being in this room, listening to the harrowing stories of the impacts of benefit cuts, changes to pip and capability assessments strengthened my resolve to beat Iain Duncan Smith whenever that election comes.”

Shaheen, who describes herself as an “inequality geek”, and is director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS), told the event that she had been canvassing in Chingford and Woodford Green earlier in the day and had come across a disabled woman who had fallen in the street.

Shaheen’s husband had waited with the woman when an ambulance failed to arrive.

She told the event: “We were talking to her, someone comes just twice a week, she clearly needs more support, she hasn’t got family.”

She said the lack of social investment in care and support for the woman would now cost the state so much more, while the woman herself had gone through the trauma of falling in the street.

She was like, ‘Don’t worry, just leave me here in the street.’ It’s so upsetting.”

Shaheen also warned the event that the state was now being viewed as a “punitive army” by working-class people because of the values of the politicians who have introduced those policies.

She said: “Partly it’s about lack of money but unfortunately it’s also about the culture, the culture that has developed.

I’m not blaming the civil servants, those frontline workers, because they are incentivised in certain ways really to forget about the compassion, to forget about humanising.

So it is something we need to think very seriously about, how we change the culture, not just more money but also a different set of principles and values.”

*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

8 August 2019

 

 

Record number of disabled people receive support from Access to Work

A record number of disabled people received employment-related support through the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme last year, new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures have revealed.

It is also the first time that spending on AtW has exceeded the amount spent on the programme in 2010, the year the Conservative-led coalition government assumed power and embarked on a decade of cuts and reforms in the name of austerity.

The scheme funds workplace adjustments for disabled people such as support workers, travel costs and aids and equipment.

Until 2018-19 (£129 million), spending on AtW had been lower every year in real terms than in 2010-11 (£122 million), and it fell as low as £103 million in 2015-16*.

More than 36,000 disabled people received an AtW grant last year, an increase of more than 2,000 on the previous year.

Under the Conservative-led coalition, the number receiving AtW payments fell from a peak of 32,810 in 2010-11 to just 26,460 the following year.

The DWP press release announcing the statistics quoted two disabled employees of Lloyds Banking Group, who both receive support through AtW.

One of them, Ross, a wheelchair-user who has a support worker paid for by AtW, said: “Access to Work has made a massive difference to my life.

Without it, I wouldn’t have a job. I probably wouldn’t be earning a living, I wouldn’t own my own home, I wouldn’t be able to go on holidays and I wouldn’t be able to follow the hobbies that interest me because I wouldn’t be able to be employed.

It makes a massive, massive difference to me.”

Another Lloyds employee, Louis, who is visually-impaired, receives AtW support for taxi fares for him and his guide dog to travel to and from work.

He said: “Access to Work is that key enabler which allows businesses to be as inclusive as they want to be.”

Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said: “Having a disability or health condition must not be a barrier to enjoying a fulfilling career – and the support available means there’s no excuse for employers who refuse to be inclusive.

Access to Work removes the obstacles facing disabled people in the workplace, helping to level the playing field and ensure businesses don’t see employing disabled people as a burden.

With more disabled people than ever before supported through Access to Work, thousands more employers across the country are benefitting from the skills disabled people bring to the workplace.”

Disabled campaigners have repeatedly highlighted the benefits of AtW and have even branded it “a cornerstone of the movement for equality and civil rights for Deaf and disabled people in the UK”.

But they have also highlighted concerns about delays and errors in dealing with claims, and the cap on annual payments (originally set at £42,500 but later increased to £57,200), which they say has had a disproportionate impact on the job and career prospects of Deaf users of British Sign Language and other disabled people with high support needs.

*These are real terms figures at 2018-19 prices, so as to remove the effect of inflation over time

8 August 2019

 

 

Research DRILLs down into bullying and social exclusion of disabled pupils

Young disabled pupils have described how they are targeted by school bullies because of their impairments, and are treated as social outcasts, but still do not view themselves as disabled people, according to new research.

Researchers interviewed more than 40 disabled and non-disabled pupils, mostly aged 12 to 14, in both mainstream and special schools across England.

But most of the pupils who took part in the focus groups defined disability according to whether a person used aids, particularly wheelchairs.

They found that few of the young people who had been labelled as having special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) identified as disabled people according to the social model of disability.

Instead, they viewed disability as “a person-centric problem, rather than a social one”.

In some cases, pupils with SEND rejected any similarities with disabled people they knew, while they were reluctant to discuss their own impairments, or to link them to the support and adjustments they received in class.

The National Lottery-funded research, led by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), found that most of the young people with SEND described being bullied and socially excluded at school, and said their group of school friends was small or non-existent.

One said: “Like I’ll walk into a class and I’m met with horrible comments because I walk differently because I have mobility… I walk with my feet turned out and I’m met with ‘penguin’ or ‘retard’, stuff like that.”

There were also hints of a “culture of bullying denialism” among school leaders, with some pupils with SEND seeing anti-bullying initiatives as insufficient and unhelpful.

Those that did have friends in mainstream schools tended to associate with “fellow social outcasts”, says the report, Special or Unique: Young People’s Attitudes to Disability.

Non-disabled pupils who took part in the research expressed neutral or positive attitudes towards disabled pupils, but were not friends with them.

The report suggests that the failure of any non-disabled pupils to express hostility towards disabled classmates could be because they were aware that expressing positive views about disabled people “is the socially acceptable thing to do”.

And, the report adds, the pupils who took part in the focus groups were selected by their teachers, who may have chosen pupils they thought would provide answers that would reflect well on their school.

Among the report’s recommendations is a call for school leaders to encourage teachers to take more action to address bullying and social exclusion in the classroom, and to promote “greater openness” about disability in their schools.

It calls on the Department for Education to develop SEND-specific anti-bullying guidance, and to include information on the social model of disability, human rights and discrimination in the Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) curriculum.

The report also says that local disabled people’s organisations should work with schools and local authorities to co-develop and co-deliver PSHE curriculum material on disability and provide disabled adult mentors for young disabled people.

Sue Bott, DR UK’s head of policy and research, says in the report: “The research shows that SEND pupils do not consider themselves to be disabled not from the belief that disability is somehow no longer relevant but because of their negative feelings towards disability generally.

This research should be a wake-up call or else we will find yet another generation of disabled young people experiencing the same negative attitudes and behaviours.

It’s only when you can accept yourself as who you are, a valued disabled person, that progress can be made.

Then you can stop apologising for yourself and rejecting the support that helps with everyday life.

We need disability to be understood and a valued part of the school environment.

We need more interaction between all young people, and we need young disabled people to have the opportunity to draw support from disabled adults.

If we fail to have an education system that is truly inclusive of disabled young people, that values disabled young people for who they are, and enables disabled people to reach their full potential then our efforts to realise the human, social and economic rights of disabled people will always be limited.”

Evan Odell, from DR UK, the lead researcher on the report, said: “These findings show that, in some areas, little has changed for disabled children in the last 40 years or so.

Schools, special educational needs coordinators and teachers have understandably emphasised the need for reasonable adjustments and classroom support for pupils with SEND.

Now they need to deal with bullying and ensure disabled children have the same chance to develop social skills and share in the experiences that mark out the teenage years.”

The report is the latest piece of research to come out of the five-year, £5 million Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) research programme, which is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, and delivered by DR UKDisability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

It is believed to be the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people, and should eventually fund about 40 pieces of research and pilot projects.

8 August 2019

 

 

Rise of Boris Johnson government is ‘really dark moment’ for disabled people, says author

The rise to power of a new Conservative government under the leadership of Boris Johnson has created a “really dark moment” for disabled people, anti-austerity activists have been told at the launch of a new book.

Frances Ryan, a disabled journalist whose book* investigates the impact of austerity on disabled people, told the event that watching Johnson and his new cabinet take power had affected “everybody who looks different and feels different”.

She said: “These moments can feel particularly scary when you’re reliant on the government to help you with all the basic parts of life, being able to get yourself dressed in the morning or leave the house.”

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, warned the event and those watching via a live online feed that Johnson’s silence on disability and social security policy since taking office was ominous for disabled people and those claiming benefits.

He said: “In all the discussions so far he’s mentioned nothing about social security, and nothing about [working-age] disabled people in any of the announcements that he’s had, and I think that reflects their priorities and the direction in which they are travelling.”

Aditya Chakrabortty, who writes on economics for the Guardian, said that Johnson and his new government “have got a very serious plan and it involves effectively concentrating the resources of this country, our resources, into the pockets of the few”.

He said it was the “most pernicious achievement” of successive Conservative-led governments during the austerity era that “they have made us all feel that actually it’s us against them, it’s ‘me on my own’, it’s ‘dog-eat-dog’”.

Paul Atherton, one of the disabled people whose experiences of austerity are described in Ryan’s new book, and who has been homeless for the last 10 years and lives “pretty much at Heathrow Terminal Five”, described how he was currently “destitute” because of his ongoing struggle to secure the benefits he is entitled to.

He said he had “absolutely no funds coming in whatsoever” after DWP decided to stop all his benefits, while the likelihood of receiving any financial support for the next four months was “pretty slim”.

He told the launch event: “What the state or the government or society expects you to do to survive these periods, I have no idea.

As a human being, why would you inflict that pain and suffering and degradation on another human being? It’s incomprehensible to me.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, praised Ryan’s book for telling the story of the “human impact” of austerity on disabled people.

And she praised Disabled People Against Cuts – which organised the event, with support from Unite the Union and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity – for ensuring “that the voices of disabled people are being heard and continue to be heard”.

McDonnell praised Ryan, who writes for the Guardian, for “getting the message out about the impact of the last nine years of austerity”.

He said she had been “one of those bright lights we have relied on to get the information out there”, and he said that her book had exposed the “brutality that has been inflicted upon us over the last nine years”.

Ryan said disabled people would need to be “at the front and centre” of any fightback against the loss of their rights.

And she said they would need the political left “to be our allies in this”, and to find ways to “unite and to challenge the dodgy, damaging narratives we have heard in recent years and build a positive, progressive vision for a better society for all of us”.

She said she hoped her book could play “a small part in a much bigger picture of this rallying cry”.

*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

8 August 2019

 

 

Disabled duo who lost out through universal credit set for third DWP court action

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing another court action over the financial impact of universal credit on disabled people, which legal experts say is costing many claimants thousands of pounds a year.

Two disabled people with high support needs – known as TP and AR – are bringing their third case against DWP over the loss of income they experienced after being “migrated” onto universal credit (UC) when their circumstances changed.

They previously argued successfully in the high court that draft regulations would have left them and others forced onto UC before 16 January 2019 – when an earlier set of regulations came into force – worse off by £100 a month compared with those who did not move onto UC and continued receiving severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP).

This was because they were set to receive only £80 per month in compensation, compared with a top-up of about £180 per month to their benefits they had previously received through SDP and EDP. 

In an earlier high court case, TP and AR had successfully argued that DWP unlawfully discriminated against them when their benefits were cut sharply when they moved local authority and were forced to claim UC.

TP had been forced to move to an area where UC had been rolled out so he could access specialist healthcare, following a diagnosis of end stage non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer.

AR had also had to move to a universal credit “full service” area, in his case because the imposition of the bedroom tax meant his previous home was unaffordable.

Before moving, both men had received SDP and EDP on top of employment and support allowance.

SDP and EDP were designed to meet some of the additional care needs of disabled people with high support needs who live alone with no carer, but these premiums are being scrapped under universal credit.

When they moved home, both men were advised by DWP staff that their benefits would not change, but each of them saw their income drop by about £178 a month when they were moved onto UC. 

Now TP and AR have had to write to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd for a third time, after she announced last month that the level of compensation for disabled people who had been receiving EDP and SDP and had moved onto UC before 16 January would be set at £120 for single claimants.

Because of their previous court actions, TP and AR currently receive about £180 a month top-up to their benefits, but the new regulations coming into force may reduce this to £120.

They argue that these “migration arrangements” are still unlawful because disabled people who previously received SDP and EDP and moved onto UC before 16 January 2019 will receive over £50 a month less than those in similar circumstances who were not forced onto UC.

They have given DWP a deadline of 15 August to reply to their letter.

If they receive no satisfactory reply, TP and AR will consider bringing their third judicial review case.

AR said: “Losing £50 will make it even harder to make ends meet. It may not sound like a lot, but it will make a difference.

Not only that, it is unfair that we will be treated differently to other claimants due to the illogical policy the government has put in place.

Now I fear it is back to food banks for me, even though I have brought two successful legal cases.”

TP added: “To say that I am extremely frustrated to be fighting essentially the same fight again, now for a third time, is an understatement.

It is time for the government to take responsibility for their flawed policy and ensure everyone is treated equally.”

A DWP spokesperson declined to comment on the new legal action.

But he said: “We recently increased these payments to reflect the value of SDP that people received before moving to universal credit, taking into account the increased amount available in UC through the limited capability work related activity addition.”

Rudd has estimated that about 45,000 claimants will benefit from the package of support by 2024-25.

Claimants currently receiving SDP will now not be moved onto UC if they have a change of circumstances. This situation will not change until 2021.

Tessa Gregory, from solicitors Leigh Day, representing TP and AR, said: “It beggars belief that our clients are having to go back to court for a third time.

Amber Rudd has promised to take a more compassionate approach yet, despite losing two legal challenges, she is still seeking to short-change severely disabled people, like our clients, who have lost out on universal credit through no fault of their own.

We hope that the government will not waste further money fighting this case and will now pay our clients and others like them what they are due.”

Leigh Day is also bringing a separate group legal action against DWP on behalf of disabled people migrated on to UC when their circumstances changed before 16 January 2019 and who also lost their disability premiums. 

Leigh Day says a single person in this situation will have lost just over £4,000 in the last year, with a couple losing just under £8,000.

Last month, Disability News Service revealed that DWP had admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how universal credit would affect different groups of disabled people.

DWP has always admitted there would be winners and losers among disabled people as it gradually introduced its delayed and much-criticised new system, while it claims that any savings would be reinvested into supporting those it calls “the most severely disabled”.

But it has repeatedly refused to provide clear details of how UC is likely to affect different groups of disabled people, particularly those currently receiving the various disability-related premiums.

8 August 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 14:47
Aug 212019
 

We’ve had the following request to ask for people to come forward for an important research project

I’m a visually impaired activist and I’m currently undertaking a research project into disabled women & disabled non-binary people’s experiences of non-consensual touching, harassment, hate crimes and sexual assaults.

We are inviting disabled women & non-binary people to share their experiences through our website, as there is currently insufficient research into this issue.

I’m collaborating with Dr Hannah Mason Bish, a criminologist. We want to collect as many stories as possible to help research and raise awareness of this issue. The contributions are anonymised and can be as long or short as contributors want.

We are aware this is also an issue experienced by men, but as disabled women are twice as likely to experience sexual assault and there is limited research into this issue, we want to start with women\’s experiences and then hopefully get additional funding for future projects.

If you have a contribution to make, please visit the website https://privateplacespublicspaces.blog/

And please  can share this post on your social media outlets in order that this important research call reaches a wider audience

 Posted by at 14:41
Aug 152019
 

 

Citizens Advice signed gagging clause in return for share of £51m from DWP

Two charities that will receive £51 million in government funding to provide advice and support to claimants of universal credit (UC) signed gagging clauses that prevent them bringing the Department for Work and Pensions “unfairly” into “disrepute”.

Both Citizens Advice (CA) and Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) signed grant agreements with Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – worth a total of £51 million – that include the same clause.

By signing the documents, it means they cannot take “any actions which unfairly bring or are likely to unfairly bring [DWP’s] name or reputation and/or [DWP] into disrepute”.

It comes a year after Disability News Service revealed how several disability charities had signed contracts under the government’s Work and Health Programme that included clauses promising not to bring DWP into disrepute.

Copies of the agreements signed last year by CA and CAS have been obtained from DWP by social welfare activist Frank Zola using the Freedom of Information Act.

He told Disability News Service (DNS) that the grant “does little more than help some people claim universal credit and not address its inherent flaws, it just helps impose UC misery on its service users, through this £51,000,000 bribe.

Citizens Advice provides help to large numbers of those punished by universal credit, such as disabled people and families who have ended up losing thousands of pounds by claiming UC, vast rises in debt, rent arrears, evictions, survival crime, five week delays in first payments and the horror of its inbuilt benefit sanctions and excessive conditionality.

Against this background, does Citizens Advice campaign and advocate for universal credit to be stopped and abolished?

No, it decides to act as a mere duplicitous adjunct of the DWP and even agrees to a grant gagging clause that prevents them from being critical of the DWP.”

He questioned why CA had kept its negotiations over the grant secret, rather than engaging with activists and claimant-led organisations, and the advice and guidance sector, on the best ways to support UC claimants and challenge the “iniquity” of UC. 

He added: “This Citizens Advice grant damages trust in advice and guidance and reinforces the belief that, like charity and third sector collusion and contracts with the DWP Health and Work Programme, it is now part of a shadow state with commercial interests.”

Dr Jay Watts, an activist who raised concerns about the grant when it was announced at last October’s Tory party conference, said: “First of all, I need to make it clear that I think it is important people feel they can still approach Citizens Advice Bureaux which operate independently of head office and provide a vital service in desperate times.

Having said that, many people will feel that CA has made a pact with the devil in accepting money from the government within the context of a contractual arrangement that limits their capacity to speak out against the policies which produce much of the despair they are tasked to help with.

It is simply bad psychology to argue that dissent on government policies which cause such human rights violations won’t be muted at best by the inherent and often unconscious desire not to bite the hand that feeds.”

Rick Burgess, of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, another who raised concerns last October, said: “This gagging clause will cause utter dismay to people, and to those CA staff who see their executive leadership betraying their very ethos.

At a time when the DWP is engaged in massive and ongoing human rights abuse, for the supposed Citizens Advice organisation to be tied into a legal and financial relationship with the abusers is catastrophic for CA’s integrity and for people who need defending from the DWP, and for open democratic oversight of government policies.

It’s a bribe to stay silent.”

Disabled activists raised serious concerns last October about whether the DWP funding would put the independence of CA and CAS at risk, with Watts saying CA had “sold out to the DWP for £51 million after 79 years of independence”.

Just hours after the funding was announced, CA had added to those concerns when it refused to criticise DWP at a party conference fringe event over four deaths that had been linked to universal credit, with the charity’s comments about the UC roll-out appearing to contrast with much stronger criticisms from fellow panellists.

This week, CA confirmed that the agreement with DWP included the “disrepute” clause, but said that all of its “public advocacy work” was “based on evidence and would not be categorised as ‘unfair’” and so the clause “does not affect Citizens Advice’s ability to publicly criticise DWP”. 

A CA spokesperson said the decision not to speak out at last year’s Tory party conference fringe event was not because of the “disrepute” clause.

She added: “We agreed to the clause in the agreement because it does not stop us from speaking out – all of our public advocacy work is based on evidence and would not be categorised as ‘unfair’.”

Gillian Guy, CA’s chief executive, said in a statement: “There is nothing in the grant agreement that prevents us from raising our evidence publicly about the impact universal credit is having on the people who come to us for help. 

Since we signed the grant agreement and have been delivering the service, we’ve published significant pieces of policy work highlighting where improvements can be made to the universal credit system. We will continue to do so. 

Citizens Advice is, and always will be, totally independent from government.”

CAS has declined to confirm that its agreement contained a “disrepute” clause, and that it could potentially affect its public criticism of DWP, and it has also declined to explain why it accepted the clause in the agreement.

But Derek Mitchell, chief executive of CAS, said in a statement: “Citizens Advice Scotland has not, nor would we ever, sign an agreement which would prevent us speaking out on behalf of people we represent.

Nothing in this grant agreement stops us from raising concerns about the impact universal credit is having on the people who turn to us for help.  

Universal credit has been one of our major public advocacy issues and we have highlighted concerns around the five week waiting time, the deductions from universal credit which result from advance loans and the digital first aspect negatively impacting claimants.

We highlighted these concerns as a result of robust analysis of the evidence from our client base across Scotland, which is how we deliver advocacy. 

We will continue to use that evidence base to campaign for a better system for the people we help, and we will always do so independent of government.”

15 August 2019

 

 

EHRC proposals on new right to independent living: DPOs welcome draft plans

Leading disabled campaigners have welcomed draft proposals by the equality and human rights watchdog that would provide a new legal right to independent living for disabled people.

A legal right to independent living is one of the key demands of the disabled people’s movement, and if introduced through legislation should see the UK comply for the first time with article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities called on the UK to recognise disabled people’s right to live independently, and said it was “going backwards” on independent living.

It warned that disabled people were “not able to choose where to live, with whom to live and how to live… [they] are still facing the risk of institutionalisation and not being able to live within the community.”

Now the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says there is “growing evidence of regression in relation to the right of disabled people to live independently as part of their communities”.

It has produced a working paper with six “key elements” that together could “incorporate the right to independent living into domestic law”.

These six elements include a new duty on public bodies like local councils to aim to meet the requirements of article 19; a legal presumption that accommodation should be provided in the community, with care and support to enable “community or home living”; and a ban on building new “institutional” accommodation.

The commission has been working on its plans since at least November 2017 and is still “refining” its proposals.

As part of its development of the working paper, it has been consulting members of the Independent Living Strategy Group (ILSG)*.

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, ILSG’s chair, said: “The ILSG welcomes the paper, which we helped to develop over the past 18 months, in one of our many attempts to strengthen disabled people’s right to independent living.

The EHRC and the ILSG will continue to collaborate on a number of ways to bring about a statutory right to independent living and [want] to work with anyone to this end.” 

Dr Miro Griffiths, a researcher, adviser and campaigner on disability rights and a member of EHRC’s disability advisory committee (DAC), said: “As the EHRC has noted in recent years, there are widespread concerns that disabled people’s right to independent living is being eroded.”

He said the commission’s proposals would build on the UN committee’s recommendations and “go some way to protect independent living against the ever-changing political, economic, and social objectives of the state”.

But he said any changes would also have to ensure that guidance and interpretation of the new laws by policy-makers would be developed “in line with the ideas, values, and aspirations of the disabled people’s movement”.

He said he was supportive of the direction of the work so far, but that it was essential that the commission “continues to take guidance from the DAC, and others, as the proposals develop”.

Becki Meakin, general manager of Shaping Our Lives (SOL), who has been involved in the ILSG discussions, said it was “very disappointing that disabled people’s right to live in the community, a right that most people would not question, has to be protected by legal measures”.

She said SOL supported the EHRC proposals, but she warned that disabled people had found it “extremely difficult” to use other legislation, such as the Care Act, to defend their rights.

She said: “A key problem is that disabled people will often not have access to legal aid and not have sufficient money to hire the necessary legal support to challenge a local authority in court.”

She said any new laws would need to be accompanied by investment in disabled people’s organisations so they could advocate for disabled people relying on the new legislation, and support for disabled people so they have “the best possible chance of defending their right to choice and control on where and how they want to live”.

Meakin said: “Shaping Our Lives has been raising awareness of the crisis of user-led organisations and the many closures of local groups that provide a collective voice for disabled people and those from diverse communities.

Without a strong network of local user-led organisations, disabled people may still experience too many barriers to independent living and have no means to defending it.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of SOL, said there also needed to be more attention paid in the proposals to the diversity of disabled people, particularly mental health survivors.

He said: “Given that more and more survivors are being especially penalised by welfare reform and coming under the control and compulsory provisions of mental health legislation, it would be good if more attention could be paid to this highly problematic and contentious area.

This especially given that we know that this discriminates particularly against some black and minority ethnic groups.”

He suggested a wider consultation by EHRC with disabled people and their organisations, including SOL.

Sue Bott, head of policy and research for Disability Rights UK, said: “Ideally we would like to see the rights enshrined in the UNCRPD brought into domestic legislation but failing that, the measures put forward by the EHRC would go a long way towards realising our right to independent living.”

She said the proposals “would pretty much do it in term of a right to independent living, but the wording in UNCRPD article 19 is more explicit in the scope of what we need. 

As we have seen with the public sector equality duty, there is always a doubt and room for interpretation in a public sector duty.”

And she added: “It’s not just about resources – many community solutions are in fact cheaper.

It’s about a change in attitudes and a recognition that disabled people should have the same rights as everyone else.”

*The Independent Living Strategy Group works to protect and promote disabled people’s rights to independent living in England. Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.

15 August 2019

 

 

EHRC proposals on new right to independent living: Six key elements

The equality and human rights watchdog has described six key elements that it believes would be needed to enable disabled people in the UK to have a legal right to independent living.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has been examining whether there needs to be a legal right to independent living since at least November 2017.

Last year, a barrister commissioned by the watchdog concluded that there did need to be such a legal right.

EHRC has been developing a working paper describing how this could be achieved, although it is still “refining” its proposals.

Two years ago, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities called on the UK to recognise disabled people’s right to live independently, and said it was “going backwards” on independent living.

The committee has recommended that article 19 (on independent living) of the UN disability convention should be incorporated into UK domestic law.

In the working paper, EHRC says it agrees with this recommendation, but believes there is “no single way” to do this.

Instead, a “mixture of provisions with duties and rights of varying strength, levels and breadth is likely to be required”.

It believes there would be six “key elements” to how this could be done.

The first would be to create a new duty on certain public bodies, such as local authorities and NHS clinical commissioning groups, to act with the aim of meeting the requirements of article 19.

Secondly, there would be a legal presumption that accommodation should be provided in the community, with care and support to enable community or home living, as long as this was in line with the disabled person’s wishes.

Disabled people should also be able to decline care (or elements of that support), “even if others may think those care elements are best for their well-being”, and they should have that wish respected.

There should also be a ban on the building of new “institutional” accommodation, although the working paper does not currently recommend that existing institutions should be shut down.

The fifth element is for local authorities, and central government, to carry out a regular assessment of unmet need for accommodation, support and care in the community, probably every two years.

The final “key element” would be to set up a new independent body to enforce the right to independent living and decide if local authorities have “discharged their obligations”.

The working paper also attempts to define institutional accommodation, suggesting that it is a setting where residents are isolated from the broader community; or live with people other than those they have chosen to live with; or where they do not have control over their day-to-day lives and the decisions which affect them; or where the interests of the organisation itself “tend to take precedence over the residents’ individualised needs or wishes”.

Although the working paper has not yet been published on the commission’s website, it was submitted quietly in April as evidence to the parliamentary joint committee on human rights, for its ongoing inquiry into the inappropriate detention of young autistic people and young people with learning difficulties.

Leading figures in the independent living movement have given the proposals a generally positive welcome (see separate story), while some of them have been working with the commission on its proposals.

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “The evidence shows that the rights of disabled and older people to live in their communities are at risk. 

Disabled people often feel like second-class citizens, and many are sadly faced with little choice but to move into institutions. They are often left feeling ostracised.  

We need a transformative solution that reaffirms our commitment to ensuring that everyone can live as part of their community where no one is forced out of the place they call home.

We are confident that our solution will protect the right of many more people to live in their communities and we would welcome a national conversation to take our proposal forward.”

15 August 2019

 

 

Mystery over sharp drop in disabled people’s unemployment rate

Striking – but unexplained – new official figures show there has been a large fall over the last year in the proportion of disabled people who are unemployed.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show that the percentage of disabled people counted as unemployed dropped to 7.3 per cent of those who were economically active (those seeking employment and available to start work) in April-June 2019.

This compares with an unemployment rate of 8.8 per cent during the same time period in 2018, and a rate that was as high as 13.5 per cent in 2013.

The proportion of those economically inactive (not available for work) fell slightly over the same period, from 44.4 per cent of working-age disabled people to 43.3 per cent.

It means there has been a fall of about 17 per cent in the unemployment rate among economically-active disabled people in just a year, while the unemployment rate for non-disabled people actually rose slightly from 3.3 per cent to 3.4 per cent over the same period.

The figures (see table A08) are likely to raise questions about the impact of the government’s welfare reforms on disabled people, and whether the fall could be linked in some way to the introduction of the much-criticised universal credit benefit system.

There will also be questions over whether the fall was at least partly due to increasing numbers of disabled people being forced into self-employment and part-time jobs (of at least one hour a week), or government training and jobs programmes. ONS includes all three in its measure of “employment”.

Figures secured from ONS last year by Inclusion London showed that nearly half of the increase in disability employment in the previous four years – between 2013-14 and 2017-18 – had been due to disabled people becoming self-employed or taking part-time jobs of as little as one hour a week.

Mike Smith, a former commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and now chief executive of the east London disabled people’s organisation Real, said: “I don’t believe the employment environment has suddenly become more welcoming.

I suspect some employers are getting better, but it might also be because people on the periphery of struggling to work are struggling even more to survive on benefits, and so have been pushed into work.

What the stats don’t tell you is anything about the quality of the work, the wage levels, the hours of work, the job security, etcetera.”

There was also a call for research into the cause of the fall by Manchester-based Breakthrough UK, a disabled people’s organisation which provides employment support for disabled people.

Peter Jackson, Breakthrough UK’s deputy chief executive, said the figures needed “more scrutiny” and research to identify what had caused the fall in the unemployment rate, including whether the rollout of the government’s universal credit benefits system was playing a role.

He said: “Somebody needs to drill down into that data to get a better understanding of the impact of the very diverse range of factors involved.”

He added: “We have not seen any significant difference in terms of the employment market and the experiences of our clients on our employment programmes.

Our experience in working with disabled people who we are supporting to secure employment in the open jobs market has not changed. It is still very challenging.

People are generally experiencing the same types of barriers.”

He said there had been increasing contact from employers who have signed up to the government’s Disability Confident employment programme.

He said: “It’s certainly got traction from employers.”

But he added: “Whether that gets translated into real outcomes impacting on their workforce is an entirely different matter.”

Jackson also compared the ONS figures with his own day-to-day experiences in Manchester.

He said: “If you walk the streets of Manchester on any given day, the level of deprivation and marginalisation is slapping you in the face.

The number of homeless people sleeping in shop doorways – that is my barometer in terms of how well the economy is functioning.”

Asked to explain the striking fall in the unemployment rate, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “The number of disabled people in employment is the highest on record, showing great progress towards making our workplaces more inclusive and ensuring those disabled people who want to work are given the opportunity to enjoy a fulfilling career.

By encouraging employers to become Disability Confident and providing more funding than ever before for the Access to Work scheme we are removing barriers so that more businesses can reap the rewards of being inclusive and more disabled people can find and stay in work.

Though welcome, the reasons for the improving disability employment rate are complex so it is impossible to put this down to one cause.”

15 August 2019

 

 

Anger and collective action’ secure ‘success’ for Peterloo access campaign

A grassroots campaign that “harnessed the anger, determination and collective action” of disabled people in Manchester has secured a council promise to ensure a new memorial to the victims of the Peterloo massacre is made “fully accessible”.

The council-funded memorial is currently completely inaccessible to many disabled people, even though it was designed to be used as a platform for speakers and demonstrators, mirroring those who spoke during the protest in 1819 that led to the massacre*.

But following months of campaigning, and weekly vigils by disabled activists, Manchester City Council has now agreed make the monument “fully accessible”, ensuring that “everyone can reach the top”.

It has also agreed that no-one will speak from the inaccessible memorial during events tomorrow (Friday) that will mark the 200th anniversary of the massacre.

Instead, the council says the monument will be used as “the backdrop to the event rather than the centrepiece or any sort of platform for performance”, although disabled activists say they will go further and creatively “obscure the memorial from view” for at least part of the day.

The memorial was unveiled quietly earlier this week without a civic ceremony.

Some of the disabled campaigners who have protested over its discriminatory design were at the site again yesterday to inspect the memorial with artist Jeremy Deller, following a meeting with the council.

They say the council is now looking at two options: incorporating a ramp into the design – the solution favoured by disabled campaigners – or installing a platform-style chair lift, which appears to be the council’s favoured option.

Both options will be examined by the architects that have worked on the memorial with Deller.

The council originally insisted that it was unlikely that any “fundamental changes” would be made to the inaccessible memorial, but later backed down in the face of the campaign.

Disabled campaigners are now hoping that a new, fully accessible version of the memorial will be completed in time for the 201st anniversary of the massacre, in August 2020.

A public consultation on designs for the new version of the memorial will begin soon, with the hope that it will be “meaningful, accessible and transparent”.

Dennis Queen, from Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts, said the decision to reveal the memorial with no ceremony or gathering was “a welcome sign of good faith from a local authority that really is suitably concerned about the whole scandal and will try to fix this error by retrofit”.

She said it was a shame the council had not taken seriously the early concerns that were raised by disabled people about the memorial.

She said: “A lesson must be learned here. Listen to disabled people.

Disabled people have a strong, radical local movement which has fought hard for involvement in and consideration from our local authority.”

She said the campaign showed that disabled people would take action if they were excluded from local politics in Manchester.

Queen said: “Peterloo left a legacy of strong radical activism and that affected disabled people too. 

The Peterloo memorial will be a centre point for all local activism for, we hope, at least the next 200 years. We will join in. Invited or not.”

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), said the campaign would only be viewed as a success if the council agreed to sign a joint statement confirming its commitment to consult fully on any access design solutions and providing a timetable for work to be completed in time for the 201st anniversary.

He said: “Obviously, GMCDP is proud to have been involved in such a powerful grassroots campaign that has harnessed the anger, determination, and collective action of disabled people.

It is a campaign that has raised the profile of our exclusion, through our initial protest, weekly vigils, coverage in the media and subsequent constructive meetings with the council, architects and artist Jeremy Deller.

Although disabled people had been telling the council that its plans for the memorial were flawed, since they were first unveiled last November, it is only really in the last three months that this campaign has really found its voice.

Although we are reluctant to talk of ‘success’ just yet, a turning point obviously in the campaign came when the council bowed to pressure and announced they were committed to making the memorial ‘fully accessible’.”

But he said the campaign was “far from over”.

Hilton said: “Our aim is that by working with the artist Jeremy Deller, an elegant design solution will be found that not only provides full access to the memorial but also enhances what has already been built.

The steps tell the story of those massacred on St Peter’s Fields 200 years ago.

Perhaps [a ramp would] tell a different story, but fundamentally our struggle is the same, a fight for liberty and equality that disabled people are all too familiar with.”

The memorial is positioned near what was known in 1819 as St Peter’s Fields, the site of the massacre, and is outside the current Manchester Central Convention Centre, which in a few weeks will host the Conservative party’s annual conference.

A spokesperson for the city council said: “The council has acknowledged that the innovative and imaginative interpretation of the design brief, with a greater emphasis on interaction than originally envisaged for a public artwork, meant that not enough consideration was initially given to accessible design issues. 

We have listened to, and engaged with, the concerns of disability access campaigners who have raised this issue, and we are committed to making the monument fully accessible – so that everyone can reach the top.

Details of a proposal for how this will be achieved are being finalised and will be announced in the next few days.

Both the council and Jeremy Deller are determined that the solution will be of the highest design quality and make a positive contribution to the overall appearance of the memorial as well as its accessibility, and dialogue will continue.

The memorial will be there in its current form in the short term – enabling it to form a backdrop to the 200th anniversary commemorations – with the modification taking place afterwards.”

Meanwhile, tomorrow’s events to mark the 200th anniversary will include three performances of From The Crowd, which will include eyewitness accounts of those present at Peterloo intertwined with the words of contemporary poets and protesters, including some of the disabled activists who campaigned to ensure an accessible memorial.

Disabled activists are set to “obscure the memorial from view creatively” during the three performances.

Between the three shows, the memorial will be visible for the public to explore.

Disabled campaigners have also issued an appeal for solidarity to other campaign groups not to use the inaccessible top of the memorial as a platform during future rallies over the next 12 months.

They have produced a large banner with a solidarity pledge that allies can sign during From The Crowd.

The pledge commits allies to rally at the bottom of the memorial with disabled people, until everyone can “rally at the top together”.

*On 16 August 1819, paramilitary and military forces attacked more than 60,000 peaceful pro-democracy and anti-poverty protesters in Manchester, which led to 18 deaths and an estimated 700 serious injuries, in what became known as the Peterloo Massacre

15 August 2019

 

 

Picnics – not work – are a health outcome, say activists

A new campaign aims to force the government to scrap its insistence that finding a job or returning to work is an important health “outcome” for those with mental distress.

The claim that stable employment is “an important outcome for recovery for people with a mental health problem” angered members of the mental health survivor movement after it appeared in January’s NHS Long Term Plan (pdf).

Now the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) has launched a new campaign aimed at persuading the government to drop the claim from the document.

It marked the start of its campaign with a free picnic in Hyde Park yesterday (Wednesday), despite torrential rain, which it called Picnics Are A Health Outcome and which it hopes will also reinvigorate the mental health survivor community.

MHRN believes that the mental health system is now designed “to get people off benefits and to make sure people don’t take too long off work”, particularly through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.

Disabled activists have been warning for several years of the government’s increasing emphasis on linking health and job outcomes.

When the government launched its work, health and disability strategy in December 2017, disabled campaigners criticised this “cruel” and “unacceptable” emphasis.

Among the strategy’s plans were to more than double the number of employment advisers sent in to work within IAPT services, which provide treatment for people with anxiety and depression.

The strategy also revealed that the government was running trials to test different ways of delivering “joined up health and work support” in settings such as GP surgeries.

Now MHRN has launched a campaign to fight back at the increasing emphasis on the idea of work as a mental health outcome.

Denise McKenna, an MHRN co-founder, said: “We have nothing against work; we are all for good employment.

But we believe that should not be the goal for mental health services. They should be helping people to relieve people of their mental distress.

When people go to see a therapist now, they know that the therapist has an ulterior motive.”

This focus on employment is combined with a strong target-driven culture, she said, leading to people with severe and enduring mental health problems being unable to secure specialist mental health treatment because they are unable to return to work.

MHRN believes that this “ulterior motive” of therapists destroys the relationship of trust between service-user and service-provider.

McKenna said: “The whole back-to-work thing has completely destroyed mental health services.”

The treatment options are either cognitive behavioural therapy, through IAPT, or heavy doses of drugs, she said.

She added: “Our objection is that work is something that is separate from treatment for mental health.

This is basically denying people proper treatment for mental health. All they are getting is behavioural changes to force them temporarily into work.”

McKenna said MHRN also believed that it was time to “start rebuilding our community”, after the closure of day centres and other cuts and reforms to mental health services that have left many members of the survivor community isolated.

She said: “The government have done everything in their power to smash the survivor community.

The idea is that we are a community, and this [event] is a good starting point.”

15 August 2019

 

 

Tribunal decision ‘could deter companies from building more institutions’

A tribunal’s decision that a care provider should not be allowed to build a new residential home because it would look “institutional” and too much like a hospital has been welcomed by autistic rights campaigners and a leading self-advocacy organisation.

The tribunal ruled (pdf) in favour of the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) decision to refuse an application for the new facility in Walsall on the site of a former NHS campus, submitted by Lifeways Community Care and backed by Walsall council.

CQC decided last year to block the development – of ensuite bedrooms and three self-contained flats for nine autistic people and people with learning difficulties, with some communal facilities – because it would produce a “campus”-type setting.

National guidance says campus-style or congregate services* are not in the best interests of people with learning difficulties and autistic people and do not promote their right to choice, independence and inclusion.

Lifeways already has six supported living flats on the site in Spring Lane, and CQC argued that the new service would be too big and would not promote integration with the local community.

CQC told the tribunal that the proposed service was “not small-scale, is not domestic in style and is clearly different to the houses in the local area” and had the “appearance of a care facility, not of typical housing”, with “some features of a campus.”

It added: “The outcomes of this service model have been demonstrated to be less good for people with learning disabilities than is a model based on people with learning disabilities living in the same sort of ordinary places as everyone else.”

But the development was supported by Walsall council, whose lead commissioner Ian Staples told the tribunal that he was “under pressure to get people out of hospital”.

He accepted that he was taking “a professional risk by supporting something that doesn’t toe the line”.

Staples told the tribunal: “I accept [it] is bigger than six beds and there is a risk.

Ideally we would look at six, but I had 12 to 15 people looking for places and I didn’t have other sites available, so I made an informed decision and looked at the risks.”

But the health, education and social care first-tier tribunal unanimously decided that it was “obvious the proposed care home had an institutional look to it and clearly had characteristics of a campus style setting which stood out and was apart from the surrounding neighbourhood”, and that it was “completely inappropriate”. 

The tribunal also said the development would create “unacceptable and serious risks to service users in the provision of care”.

Kat Humble, communications officer for Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people, welcomed the tribunal ruling.

She said: “Autistic advocates and allies have been campaigning for decades to stop the segregation of autistic and learning disabled people away from their larger communities.

It is disheartening to see that these sorts of institutions are still in operation in some places and that care companies still attempt to open them because they are more profitable. 

However, we at Autistic UK anticipate that the CQC’s firm stance on denying applications for these places will deter companies from attempting to build them in the first place.

Isolating people from their communities is inhumane treatment and violates our right to live full and happy lives, whatever level of support any individual requires.

Living in our larger communities is the first and critical step to being accepted and fully included.”

Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns at People First (Self Advocacy), also welcomed the CQC stance and the tribunal’s “important decision”.

He said: “Institutions have no place in independent living in the 21st century. 

These kinds of institutions prevent access to living, choice, control and independence and this gives a strong message to care providers about what is not acceptable. 

It is these kinds of high-profile decisions that help to put the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities into practice. 

It says that being locked up and excluded from society is not supported by the CQC. 

Now what we need, moving forward, is to see commissioners and local authority decision makers getting on board with this approach to meeting the care and support needs of people with learning difficulties.”

CQC said it was an “important judgement” because it “further clarifies what is an acceptable care setting”.

Lifeways confirmed that it would not appeal the tribunal’s decision.

A Lifeways spokesperson refused to say if it would stop building such settings for disabled people, and why it attempted to open such a service when it would breach both the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and national guidance.

But he said in a statement: “Lifeways are disappointed by the tribunal decision, as we felt strongly that the homes we are providing are of a high standard, meet the needs of local people, and also meet the principles of Registering the Right Support [the CQC guidance], principles that we support.

The homes were developed in close collaboration with the local authority, who are clear that they meet the needs of the people in the borough.

We will continue to work with both commissioners and the CQC to ensure that future developments are of a high quality and meet the needs of the people we support.”

A Walsall council spokesperson said: “After being fully engaged by Lifeways in the development of their plans, Walsall council did not consider the application to be for an ‘institutional-type’ setting and therefore not contrary to national guidance.”

Cllr Rose Martin, the council’s portfolio holder for adult social care, added: “Walsall council is fully committed to developing alternatives to institutional settings and promoting independent living.

Walsall currently has over 84 per cent of adults with learning disabilities in receipt of a care package living with family or in their own homes, which is well above the national average.

The application by Lifeways was in response to local need, a nine bed registration presented as two three bed bungalows and three flats with some communal areas.

For some individuals, on their journey to their own accommodation, a period of living with others can be beneficial and taken in a local context is reasonable and in line with the Care Act requirement of providing choice and a range of provision.”

*CQC guidance (pdf) defines campuses as “group homes clustered together on the same site and usually sharing staff and some facilities”, and congregate settings as “separate from communities and without access to the options, choices, dignity and independence that most people take for granted in their lives”

15 August 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 22:14
Aug 092019
 

About Unum

Unum spent years pushing reforms that have been closely linked to the deaths of many claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) and to harming the physical and mental health of many others.

Disabled researchers and activists have previously shown how Unum spent years undermining the social security system in order to boost the market for its own income protection insurance policies. * Unum are scum.

Mo Stewart says “Historically, UnumProvident Insurance were banned in fifteen states in America and six countries worldwide until 2008. Professor John Langbein of the Yale School of Law produced an academic paper in January 2007 identifying the ‘UnumProvident Scandal ’ that exposed Unum’s practice of disability denial, and in 2008 the American Association of Justice identified Unum as the second worst insurance company in America. UnumProvident Insurance changed its name to Unum Insurance in 2007 following negative publicity and, in November 2007, BBC News reported that the British government were being advised by an American insurance company with a reputation for ‘racketeering ’.”

https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/unum-bragged-about-driving-government-thinking-on-incapacity-benefit-reform/

https://dpac.uk.net/2012/04/a-tale-of-two-models-disabled-people-vs-unum-atos-government-and-disability-charities-debbie-jolly/

www.mostewartresearch.co.uk

And *  https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/anger-over-unum-sponsorship-of-superhero-triathlon-event/

 

Local Paralympian Sophia Warner, is once again leading in the organisation of this year’s ‘Superhero Series’ – the UK’s only mass-participation sports series dedicated to the minority of disabled people who want to dress up and look like pratts  – launched by Sophia two years ago.

Superhero Tri participants and their ‘Sidekicks’ are encouraged to come along dressed as their favourite Super Hero.

Sophie made it clear in her interview with Disability News Service that she doesn’t care at all about how scummy UNUM are.

Unum, the employee benefits provider head-quartered in Dorking, is supporting the ‘Superhero Series’  this year as a Silver partner and will be providing lots of staff volunteers.

Peter O’Donnell, Chief Executive of Unum UK, commented: “We’ve been working with Sophia since the 2012 Paralympics and are very proud to have shared this journey as the Superhero Series has developed.  It’s a real inspiration to work in partnership with Sophia on these inclusive events.”

Amended Press release sent to us by

Liberty Wallis Account Executive
Holborn Gate, 326-330 High Holborn, London WC1V 7PP • Office: 020 7861 3083• LWallis@teamspirit.uk.comteamspirit.uk.com@TeamspiritGroupLinkedIn

 Posted by at 16:36
Aug 082019
 

 

Anger over Unum sponsorship of ‘Superhero’ triathlon event

A retired Paralympian organising a mass participation disability sports event has defended accepting sponsorship from a company that spent years lobbying the government to make the out-of-work disability benefits regime harsher and more stressful.

Unum has signed up as one of the sponsors of next week’s high-profile Superhero Tri event in Windsor – which will be televised by Channel 4 – and will be “providing lots of staff volunteers”.

But Unum spent years pushing reforms that have been closely linked to the deaths of many claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) and to harming the physical and mental health of many others.

Disabled researchers and activists have previously shown how Unum spent years undermining the social security system in order to boost the market for its own income protection insurance policies*.

Now it is sponsoring the Superhero Series events launched by marketing specialist Sophia Warner, who competed for ParalympicsGB on the track at London 2012.

Among those disabled celebrities set to take part in next week’s mass participation triathlon event are the BBC’s Frank Gardner, Paralympian Menna Fitzpatrick and TV presenter JJ Chalmers.

When asked by Disability News Service (DNS) if she knew that Unum had spent decades attempting to influence government policy on welfare reform, Warner said: “Yep.”

And when told that disabled activists had questioned Unum’s sponsorship of the Superhero Tri event because of its disturbing lobbying activities, she said: “I’m afraid I don’t really get involved with disabled activists. We’re all about positivity at Superhero Series.”

When DNS suggested that disabled activists were also “all about positivity” through their push for disability rights and equality, she said: “Um… what I’m going to do is I’m going to end this call, and thank you very much.”

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which has spent nearly a decade highlighting the harmful impact of the reforms promoted by Unum, said it was appalled at the sponsorship and Warner’s comments.

And Mo Stewart, the independent researcher who has done most to raise concerns about Unum’s influence on welfare reform**, said she was “deeply concerned” that Warner had been aware of Unum’s history of lobbying the government on welfare reform and yet still agreed the sponsorship.

She said Unum had been “instrumental in helping to create the preventable harm now endured by the UK’s chronically ill and disabled community who are unfit to work.

The company have been advising the British government since 1992 on how to limit access to out-of-work disability benefits for those in greatest need, in the expectation that a reduced UK welfare state will encourage the able-bodied community to purchase their discredited disability insurance policies.”

Stewart said the sponsorship was “a very good public relations exercise” for the company and “a distraction from past negative publicity”.

She said: “There have been many thousands of deaths linked to the work capability assessment (WCA), which was introduced in October 2008 and was made possible by the influence of Unum with the British government.

Those chronically ill and disabled people who died following the flawed WCA weren’t athletes, and it’s most regrettable to learn that some of those who enjoy the peak of physical fitness can disregard the fate of those in greatest need.”

Ellen Clifford, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Sophia Warner’s understanding of rights and equality is dangerously deficient.

Had previous generations of disabled people been as blasé about the realities of oppression, we wouldn’t now have Paralympians able to compete on a public stage.

Her typecasting of activists as negative is ironic given that we are the ones engaged in building a positive future where everyone will be free to develop their personal potential and be valued in society.

Meanwhile, Warner is actively facilitating a deeply damaging agenda based on denial of opportunity to people with impairments.”

She added: “We anticipate a new promotional campaign pushing Unum’s income protection insurance coming soon…”

Bob Ellard, a fellow DPAC steering group member, said: “The thought of disabled people dressing up in superhero costumes for the ‘inspiration’ of the TV viewing public makes me want to vomit.

Add to that taking funding from Unum, a company notorious for disability denial and influencing government welfare cuts for disabled people, Channel 4 should be ashamed of themselves and Sophia Warner should be ashamed of herself for this act of deplorable Uncle Tom-ism.” 

*Unum’s links with the UK government date back to the 1990s, when Peter Lilley, social security secretary in John Major’s Conservative government, hired senior Unum executive John LoCascio to offer advice on how to cut the number of claimants of long-term sickness benefits. 

A submission to the Commons work and pensions committee in 2002 by a director of Unum – then known as UnumProvident – called on the Labour government to “ensure both that work always pays more than benefits, and more importantly that it is clearly seen to do so”.

And in 2005, Unum bragged in a document that it had “always been at the leading edge of disability assessment and management”, and that government policy was now “moving in the same direction” as “our views and understanding” and was “to a large extent being driven by our thinking and that of our close associates”.

Three years later, in 2008, the Labour government introduced the WCA.

In 2011, Unum launched a major UK marketing campaign to promote the need for income protection insurance policies, just as the coalition began its three-year programme to reassess about 1.5 million existing claimants of old-style incapacity benefit through the new WCA.

Unum has repeatedly dismissed claims that it pushed the government to introduce the WCA system, and three years ago even claimed that it “never has lobbied on the topic of welfare reform or related matters”.

**Stewart’s book, Cash Not Care, details Unum’s influence over successive UK governments, and how it led to the introduction of the WCA

8 August 2019

 

 

Proportion of flawed Atos PIP assessment reports has soared in last two years

The proportion of disability assessment reports completed by government contractor Atos that were found to be significantly flawed has soared by more than 40 per cent in the last two years.

The percentage of substandard Atos* personal independence payment (PIP) reports rose from about 25 per cent in 2016-17 to more than 36 per cent in 2018-19, according to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.

They show the results of government audits carried out on thousands of Atos reports over the two years from 2016-17.

They were provided to the SNP MP Marion Fellows in May in response to a written parliamentary question, but have only just emerged.

And they show how the performance of Atos – which has been the target of angry protests by disabled activists for most of the last decade over the way it carries out benefit assessments – has worsened over the last two years, despite a public pledge to improve.

The figures emerged after data secured through the Freedom of Information Act by campaign John Slater showed that the proportion of substandard PIP reports completed by the other assessment contractor, Capita, reached 37 per cent in the 2018 calendar year.

In December 2017, a senior Atos executives told a committee of MPs that quality was the company’s “absolute prime target and prime focus” and that he would be “not happy at all until 100 per cent of the cases are deemed to be acceptable and pass those criteria”.

Although the proportion of audited reports that were of such poor quality that they were rated “unacceptable” fell slightly the year after those comments, the figures show Atos is still failing to meet its DWP target of ensuring that a maximum of three per cent of reports are unacceptable, six years after it first began carrying out PIP assessments.

In 2016-17, 4.7 per cent were unacceptable, the following year that rose to 5.3 per cent, and in 2018-19 it fell to 4.3 per cent, still well above three per cent.

But the figures also show how many reports were graded as not being bad enough to be unacceptable but still so flawed that there was “learning required” by the healthcare professional who wrote it, and those where the report needed to be amended because of even more serious flaws.

The proportion of reports that were unacceptable, “learning required” or needed amendments rose from 25 per cent in 2016-17, to 32 per cent in 2017-18 and again to 36 per cent in 2018-19.

The Capita figures secured by Slater showed 3.9 per cent of its audited reports in the 2018 calendar year were graded unacceptable, with 17 per cent learning required and 16 per cent needing to be amended, giving a total of 37 per cent substandard (against 36 per cent in 2018-19 for Atos).

Capita has previously refused to say if its audit data showed there were still serious concerns about its performance, and if this was deteriorating, and it has refused to comment on the audit results.

Capita carried out about 220,000 face-to-face assessments in 2018, compared with more than 730,000 by Atos.

If the audit results were representative of all the assessments carried out by Atos and Capita, then an estimated 375,000 disabled people would have had their claims decided in 2018 based on assessment reports that were significantly flawed.

And about 40,000 of those would have been decided on reports that would have been declared “unacceptable” if they had been audited.

Slater said: “Considering that Capita and Atos promised to improve the quality of their reports, these figures don’t reflect organisations that have delivered on their promises.

It’s likely that both have tried to improve the quality of reports but have failed to do so.”

He said he believed this was due to poor retention of assessors, trouble with recruiting staff with the correct attitude and experience, and the need to make its PIP assessment contracts profitable.

Slater said there were also “time pressures” to “keep up with the volume of referrals [from DWP], which means that assessors are put under extreme pressure to turn around reports quickly and so quality suffers.

This would also explain why retention is an issue as people don’t last long in these environments.”

He added: “Obviously we don’t know what pressure the DWP is applying to Capita and Atos but improving the quality of reports doesn’t seem to be top of the list.”

Anita Bellows, a researcher for Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “What is revealed by these audit figures is that a large number of unacceptable reports, of reports so bad that learning is required from the assessors who compiled them, or which need to be amended to rectify serious flaws, have been used to inform decisions about disability benefit entitlement.

That should go a long way to explain why so many PIP initial decisions are overturned by tribunals. 

The DWP should make sure that all reports are of an adequate standard, as the consequences of using sub-standard reports can be devastating for claimants.”  

DWP refused to say if it accepted that the quality of PIP assessment reports had deteriorated between 2016 and 2018; why it believed this had happened; and what action was being taken to correct it.

But a DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We want the PIP assessment process to work well for everyone and are continuously improving the service delivered.

We set providers challenging targets and regularly monitor their performance in order to ensure that they are delivering to the highest possible standard.

The majority of people assessed for PIP are satisfied with their experience and the number of complaints received by providers equates to less than one per cent of the total number of people assessed.”

An Atos spokesperson refused to say if the company would apologise for the deterioration in quality since it promised to improve; or explain why this had happened; or what action it would take to improve.

But he said in a statement: “The majority of these cases are deemed as acceptable by DWP and the proportion of cases found ‘unacceptable’ is decreasing, therefore conflating categories that are classed as acceptable with those that are not is unhelpful and misleading.”

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

8 August 2019

 

 

Air travel regulator ‘has been doing half a job by ignoring airlines’

By Fleur Perry

The aviation regulator is only doing “half the job” by reporting on access at airports but failing to carry out similar investigations into whether airlines are meeting their legal duties to disabled customers, it has been claimed.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is responsible for monitoring UK compliance with European Union (EU) laws on the accessibility of air travel, but it has so far failed to report on whether airlines are meeting these duties. 

EU regulations (EC1107/2006) have provided disabled people with a right to assistance at airports for more than a decade.

But the regulations also apply to airlines, which have legal duties to provide assistance on board flights, such as support to and from the toilet, and providing information about the flight in advance in an accessible format. 

CAA was appointed by the government to enforce the EU regulations in the UK in 2015, and is tasked with taking the necessary measures “to ensure that the rights of disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility (PRM) are respected”.

But although CAA has reported on the accessibility of airports since 2016, it has yet to publish information on how individual airlines are complying with the regulations. 

And although it has published guidance (PDF) for airports in complying with the regulations, CAA has failed so far to publish similar advice for airlines.

The regulator’s fourth annual report on airport accessibility, published last month, found more than half of disabled people surveyed said they found travelling by air difficult, with concerns about poor customer service, long waiting times and a lack of awareness of disabled people’s needs. 

David Gillon, the disability rights activist who raised the concerns about CAA’s failure to monitor the performance of airlines, said: “Monitoring the performance of UK airports in delivering passenger assistance is a welcome step forward by CAA, one that has revealed that some major airports are probably failing their legal obligations, but that’s only half the job, and the other half of the job is where the worst passenger assistance failures happen.

Wheelchairs aren’t the only thing at risk when disabled people travel by air. 

There are frequent cases of disabled passengers being left abandoned on empty airliners, or where cabin crew have failed to understand their needs.

In the worst cases, disabled people have been seriously injured by inadequately trained assistance staff. 

Yet these failures are either the responsibility of the airline, or fall into the grey area where how airports and airlines divide their passenger assistance responsibilities doesn’t match the division within the legislation.

Again, there is a clear risk of the CAA failing to adequately capture problems even for the monitoring of airports they are doing, and no chance of them recording problems happening in flight, when they simply don’t monitor the performance of airlines.” 

There have been repeated examples of disabled people reporting distressing treatment by airlines.

Last month, a local newspaper reported how Thomas Cook apologised for the treatment of a wheelchair-user on a flight to Newcastle from Turkey, after she was left in agony when a member of airline staff tried to pick her up by her legs.

On arrival in Newcastle, she saw her wheelchair thrown onto a trolley, with luggage piled on top of it – leaving it severely damaged – and was left on the plane without any support, before a member of staff shouted at her as she tried to leave the plane by shuffling on her bottom to the exit.

Earlier this year, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how airline Flybe was forced to apologise to a disabled woman after it charged her extra to reserve a seat next to her for her carer, and then refused to refund the charge.

And in June, Channel 4 presenter Sophie Morgan, a wheelchair-user, described how she was left unassisted for 45 minutes during a 12-hour flight from Argentina to Heathrow with no way of contacting a flight attendant.

She eventually resorted to sliding headsets down the aisle to attract the attention of a member of the British Airways cabin staff.

A CAA spokesperson told DNS: “When we were given responsibility for overseeing the aviation industry’s compliance with accessibility regulations, our focus was on airports rather than airlines.  

Airports play a larger role in ensuring a PRM’s journey runs smoothly. It was important for us to ensure airports were in compliance before we turned our attention to airlines.” 

He said that “that work with airlines has now begun and we will be publishing further information going forward.

We are currently working on an airline accessibility framework allowing us to provide further guidance to industry on meeting obligations under EC1107/2006. 

This framework will also assess current compliance and promote best practice. We expect to consult on the framework early next year and publish the guidance after that.”

8 August 2019

 

 

Would-be MP ‘motivated to oust Duncan Smith by late mother’s benefits ordeal’

The politician aiming to oust Iain Duncan Smith at the next general election has described being motivated by the need to expose the “heartless” reforms he introduced as work and pensions secretary, and their impact on her late mother.

Labour’s Dr Faiza Shaheen said she wanted to win the Chingford and Woodford Green seat at the next general election in part because of the impact on disabled people of the government’s austerity cuts and reforms over the last decade.

Many of these were introduced by Duncan Smith when leading the Department for Work and Pensions between 2010 and 2016.

She was speaking at an event in central London held to launch a new book* by disabled journalist Frances Ryan, which investigates the impact of austerity on disabled people.

Shaheen said she was also partly motivated in her campaign to win the seat by witnessing her mother – who died in 2017 – spend years fighting for the disability benefits and social care she needed.

She said: “Cleaning up her house, one of the most depressing things was finding all of the letters, just all of the admin in her last few years of her life that she had to do to fight for her benefits, to fight for social care. It was just heart-breaking.”

Shaheen has previously told the Huffington Post how her mother had faced a “fit for work” assessment to decide her eligibility for universal credit, the much-criticised new benefit system introduced by Duncan Smith when he was work and pensions secretary.

She told the Huffington Post last year that Duncan Smith had “wreaked so much havoc on people’s lives” and symbolised “so much cruelty and heartlessness”. 

She told Saturday’s event that she was struck by how few people in his constituency knew about “what the Tories have done and specifically what their MP has done”.

She said there was “a lot more we need to do for people to understand and realise just how cruel the state has been”.

Shaheen said on Twitter after Saturday’s event: “Court rulings, damning UN reports, suicides – the welfare ‘reforms’ brought in since 2010, instigated by my rival Iain Duncan Smith, have not only been heartless, but a costly shambles.

Tories need to be held accountable for this and so much more.”

She added: “Being in this room, listening to the harrowing stories of the impacts of benefit cuts, changes to pip and capability assessments strengthened my resolve to beat Iain Duncan Smith whenever that election comes.”

Shaheen, who describes herself as an “inequality geek”, and is director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (CLASS), told the event that she had been canvassing in Chingford and Woodford Green earlier in the day and had come across a disabled woman who had fallen in the street.

Shaheen’s husband had waited with the woman when an ambulance failed to arrive.

She told the event: “We were talking to her, someone comes just twice a week, she clearly needs more support, she hasn’t got family.”

She said the lack of social investment in care and support for the woman would now cost the state so much more, while the woman herself had gone through the trauma of falling in the street.

She was like, ‘Don’t worry, just leave me here in the street.’ It’s so upsetting.”

Shaheen also warned the event that the state was now being viewed as a “punitive army” by working-class people because of the values of the politicians who have introduced those policies.

She said: “Partly it’s about lack of money but unfortunately it’s also about the culture, the culture that has developed.

I’m not blaming the civil servants, those frontline workers, because they are incentivised in certain ways really to forget about the compassion, to forget about humanising.

So it is something we need to think very seriously about, how we change the culture, not just more money but also a different set of principles and values.”

*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

8 August 2019

 

 

Record number of disabled people receive support from Access to Work

A record number of disabled people received employment-related support through the government’s Access to Work (AtW) scheme last year, new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures have revealed.

It is also the first time that spending on AtW has exceeded the amount spent on the programme in 2010, the year the Conservative-led coalition government assumed power and embarked on a decade of cuts and reforms in the name of austerity.

The scheme funds workplace adjustments for disabled people such as support workers, travel costs and aids and equipment.

Until 2018-19 (£129 million), spending on AtW had been lower every year in real terms than in 2010-11 (£122 million), and it fell as low as £103 million in 2015-16*.

More than 36,000 disabled people received an AtW grant last year, an increase of more than 2,000 on the previous year.

Under the Conservative-led coalition, the number receiving AtW payments fell from a peak of 32,810 in 2010-11 to just 26,460 the following year.

The DWP press release announcing the statistics quoted two disabled employees of Lloyds Banking Group, who both receive support through AtW.

One of them, Ross, a wheelchair-user who has a support worker paid for by AtW, said: “Access to Work has made a massive difference to my life.

Without it, I wouldn’t have a job. I probably wouldn’t be earning a living, I wouldn’t own my own home, I wouldn’t be able to go on holidays and I wouldn’t be able to follow the hobbies that interest me because I wouldn’t be able to be employed.

It makes a massive, massive difference to me.”

Another Lloyds employee, Louis, who is visually-impaired, receives AtW support for taxi fares for him and his guide dog to travel to and from work.

He said: “Access to Work is that key enabler which allows businesses to be as inclusive as they want to be.”

Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, said: “Having a disability or health condition must not be a barrier to enjoying a fulfilling career – and the support available means there’s no excuse for employers who refuse to be inclusive.

Access to Work removes the obstacles facing disabled people in the workplace, helping to level the playing field and ensure businesses don’t see employing disabled people as a burden.

With more disabled people than ever before supported through Access to Work, thousands more employers across the country are benefitting from the skills disabled people bring to the workplace.”

Disabled campaigners have repeatedly highlighted the benefits of AtW and have even branded it “a cornerstone of the movement for equality and civil rights for Deaf and disabled people in the UK”.

But they have also highlighted concerns about delays and errors in dealing with claims, and the cap on annual payments (originally set at £42,500 but later increased to £57,200), which they say has had a disproportionate impact on the job and career prospects of Deaf users of British Sign Language and other disabled people with high support needs.

*These are real terms figures at 2018-19 prices, so as to remove the effect of inflation over time

8 August 2019

 

 

Research DRILLs down into bullying and social exclusion of disabled pupils

Young disabled pupils have described how they are targeted by school bullies because of their impairments, and are treated as social outcasts, but still do not view themselves as disabled people, according to new research.

Researchers interviewed more than 40 disabled and non-disabled pupils, mostly aged 12 to 14, in both mainstream and special schools across England.

But most of the pupils who took part in the focus groups defined disability according to whether a person used aids, particularly wheelchairs.

They found that few of the young people who had been labelled as having special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) identified as disabled people according to the social model of disability.

Instead, they viewed disability as “a person-centric problem, rather than a social one”.

In some cases, pupils with SEND rejected any similarities with disabled people they knew, while they were reluctant to discuss their own impairments, or to link them to the support and adjustments they received in class.

The National Lottery-funded research, led by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), found that most of the young people with SEND described being bullied and socially excluded at school, and said their group of school friends was small or non-existent.

One said: “Like I’ll walk into a class and I’m met with horrible comments because I walk differently because I have mobility… I walk with my feet turned out and I’m met with ‘penguin’ or ‘retard’, stuff like that.”

There were also hints of a “culture of bullying denialism” among school leaders, with some pupils with SEND seeing anti-bullying initiatives as insufficient and unhelpful.

Those that did have friends in mainstream schools tended to associate with “fellow social outcasts”, says the report, Special or Unique: Young People’s Attitudes to Disability.

Non-disabled pupils who took part in the research expressed neutral or positive attitudes towards disabled pupils, but were not friends with them.

The report suggests that the failure of any non-disabled pupils to express hostility towards disabled classmates could be because they were aware that expressing positive views about disabled people “is the socially acceptable thing to do”.

And, the report adds, the pupils who took part in the focus groups were selected by their teachers, who may have chosen pupils they thought would provide answers that would reflect well on their school.

Among the report’s recommendations is a call for school leaders to encourage teachers to take more action to address bullying and social exclusion in the classroom, and to promote “greater openness” about disability in their schools.

It calls on the Department for Education to develop SEND-specific anti-bullying guidance, and to include information on the social model of disability, human rights and discrimination in the Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) curriculum.

The report also says that local disabled people’s organisations should work with schools and local authorities to co-develop and co-deliver PSHE curriculum material on disability and provide disabled adult mentors for young disabled people.

Sue Bott, DR UK’s head of policy and research, says in the report: “The research shows that SEND pupils do not consider themselves to be disabled not from the belief that disability is somehow no longer relevant but because of their negative feelings towards disability generally.

This research should be a wake-up call or else we will find yet another generation of disabled young people experiencing the same negative attitudes and behaviours.

It’s only when you can accept yourself as who you are, a valued disabled person, that progress can be made.

Then you can stop apologising for yourself and rejecting the support that helps with everyday life.

We need disability to be understood and a valued part of the school environment.

We need more interaction between all young people, and we need young disabled people to have the opportunity to draw support from disabled adults.

If we fail to have an education system that is truly inclusive of disabled young people, that values disabled young people for who they are, and enables disabled people to reach their full potential then our efforts to realise the human, social and economic rights of disabled people will always be limited.”

Evan Odell, from DR UK, the lead researcher on the report, said: “These findings show that, in some areas, little has changed for disabled children in the last 40 years or so.

Schools, special educational needs coordinators and teachers have understandably emphasised the need for reasonable adjustments and classroom support for pupils with SEND.

Now they need to deal with bullying and ensure disabled children have the same chance to develop social skills and share in the experiences that mark out the teenage years.”

The report is the latest piece of research to come out of the five-year, £5 million Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning (DRILL) research programme, which is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, and delivered by DR UKDisability Action (in Northern Ireland), Inclusion Scotland and Disability Wales.

It is believed to be the world’s first major research programme led by disabled people, and should eventually fund about 40 pieces of research and pilot projects.

8 August 2019

 

 

Rise of Boris Johnson government is ‘really dark moment’ for disabled people, says author

The rise to power of a new Conservative government under the leadership of Boris Johnson has created a “really dark moment” for disabled people, anti-austerity activists have been told at the launch of a new book.

Frances Ryan, a disabled journalist whose book* investigates the impact of austerity on disabled people, told the event that watching Johnson and his new cabinet take power had affected “everybody who looks different and feels different”.

She said: “These moments can feel particularly scary when you’re reliant on the government to help you with all the basic parts of life, being able to get yourself dressed in the morning or leave the house.”

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, warned the event and those watching via a live online feed that Johnson’s silence on disability and social security policy since taking office was ominous for disabled people and those claiming benefits.

He said: “In all the discussions so far he’s mentioned nothing about social security, and nothing about [working-age] disabled people in any of the announcements that he’s had, and I think that reflects their priorities and the direction in which they are travelling.”

Aditya Chakrabortty, who writes on economics for the Guardian, said that Johnson and his new government “have got a very serious plan and it involves effectively concentrating the resources of this country, our resources, into the pockets of the few”.

He said it was the “most pernicious achievement” of successive Conservative-led governments during the austerity era that “they have made us all feel that actually it’s us against them, it’s ‘me on my own’, it’s ‘dog-eat-dog’”.

Paul Atherton, one of the disabled people whose experiences of austerity are described in Ryan’s new book, and who has been homeless for the last 10 years and lives “pretty much at Heathrow Terminal Five”, described how he was currently “destitute” because of his ongoing struggle to secure the benefits he is entitled to.

He said he had “absolutely no funds coming in whatsoever” after DWP decided to stop all his benefits, while the likelihood of receiving any financial support for the next four months was “pretty slim”.

He told the launch event: “What the state or the government or society expects you to do to survive these periods, I have no idea.

As a human being, why would you inflict that pain and suffering and degradation on another human being? It’s incomprehensible to me.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, praised Ryan’s book for telling the story of the “human impact” of austerity on disabled people.

And she praised Disabled People Against Cuts – which organised the event, with support from Unite the Union and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity – for ensuring “that the voices of disabled people are being heard and continue to be heard”.

McDonnell praised Ryan, who writes for the Guardian, for “getting the message out about the impact of the last nine years of austerity”.

He said she had been “one of those bright lights we have relied on to get the information out there”, and he said that her book had exposed the “brutality that has been inflicted upon us over the last nine years”.

Ryan said disabled people would need to be “at the front and centre” of any fightback against the loss of their rights.

And she said they would need the political left “to be our allies in this”, and to find ways to “unite and to challenge the dodgy, damaging narratives we have heard in recent years and build a positive, progressive vision for a better society for all of us”.

She said she hoped her book could play “a small part in a much bigger picture of this rallying cry”.

*Crippled: Austerity and the Demonization of Disabled People

8 August 2019

 

 

Disabled duo who lost out through universal credit set for third DWP court action

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing another court action over the financial impact of universal credit on disabled people, which legal experts say is costing many claimants thousands of pounds a year.

Two disabled people with high support needs – known as TP and AR – are bringing their third case against DWP over the loss of income they experienced after being “migrated” onto universal credit (UC) when their circumstances changed.

They previously argued successfully in the high court that draft regulations would have left them and others forced onto UC before 16 January 2019 – when an earlier set of regulations came into force – worse off by £100 a month compared with those who did not move onto UC and continued receiving severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP).

This was because they were set to receive only £80 per month in compensation, compared with a top-up of about £180 per month to their benefits they had previously received through SDP and EDP. 

In an earlier high court case, TP and AR had successfully argued that DWP unlawfully discriminated against them when their benefits were cut sharply when they moved local authority and were forced to claim UC.

TP had been forced to move to an area where UC had been rolled out so he could access specialist healthcare, following a diagnosis of end stage non-Hodgkin Lymphoma cancer.

AR had also had to move to a universal credit “full service” area, in his case because the imposition of the bedroom tax meant his previous home was unaffordable.

Before moving, both men had received SDP and EDP on top of employment and support allowance.

SDP and EDP were designed to meet some of the additional care needs of disabled people with high support needs who live alone with no carer, but these premiums are being scrapped under universal credit.

When they moved home, both men were advised by DWP staff that their benefits would not change, but each of them saw their income drop by about £178 a month when they were moved onto UC. 

Now TP and AR have had to write to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd for a third time, after she announced last month that the level of compensation for disabled people who had been receiving EDP and SDP and had moved onto UC before 16 January would be set at £120 for single claimants.

Because of their previous court actions, TP and AR currently receive about £180 a month top-up to their benefits, but the new regulations coming into force may reduce this to £120.

They argue that these “migration arrangements” are still unlawful because disabled people who previously received SDP and EDP and moved onto UC before 16 January 2019 will receive over £50 a month less than those in similar circumstances who were not forced onto UC.

They have given DWP a deadline of 15 August to reply to their letter.

If they receive no satisfactory reply, TP and AR will consider bringing their third judicial review case.

AR said: “Losing £50 will make it even harder to make ends meet. It may not sound like a lot, but it will make a difference.

Not only that, it is unfair that we will be treated differently to other claimants due to the illogical policy the government has put in place.

Now I fear it is back to food banks for me, even though I have brought two successful legal cases.”

TP added: “To say that I am extremely frustrated to be fighting essentially the same fight again, now for a third time, is an understatement.

It is time for the government to take responsibility for their flawed policy and ensure everyone is treated equally.”

A DWP spokesperson declined to comment on the new legal action.

But he said: “We recently increased these payments to reflect the value of SDP that people received before moving to universal credit, taking into account the increased amount available in UC through the limited capability work related activity addition.”

Rudd has estimated that about 45,000 claimants will benefit from the package of support by 2024-25.

Claimants currently receiving SDP will now not be moved onto UC if they have a change of circumstances. This situation will not change until 2021.

Tessa Gregory, from solicitors Leigh Day, representing TP and AR, said: “It beggars belief that our clients are having to go back to court for a third time.

Amber Rudd has promised to take a more compassionate approach yet, despite losing two legal challenges, she is still seeking to short-change severely disabled people, like our clients, who have lost out on universal credit through no fault of their own.

We hope that the government will not waste further money fighting this case and will now pay our clients and others like them what they are due.”

Leigh Day is also bringing a separate group legal action against DWP on behalf of disabled people migrated on to UC when their circumstances changed before 16 January 2019 and who also lost their disability premiums. 

Leigh Day says a single person in this situation will have lost just over £4,000 in the last year, with a couple losing just under £8,000.

Last month, Disability News Service revealed that DWP had admitted an “extraordinary” failure over nearly a decade to carry out any detailed calculations on how universal credit would affect different groups of disabled people.

DWP has always admitted there would be winners and losers among disabled people as it gradually introduced its delayed and much-criticised new system, while it claims that any savings would be reinvested into supporting those it calls “the most severely disabled”.

But it has repeatedly refused to provide clear details of how UC is likely to affect different groups of disabled people, particularly those currently receiving the various disability-related premiums.

8 August 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 13:58
Aug 042019
 

Disabled people protest benefits cuts deaths in Cambridge

Thursday, 1st August 2019, Disabled People Against the Cuts (Cambridgeshire and Essex), a local group of disabled people (affiliated with the national organisation DPAC), and The Cambridge People’s Assembly Against Austerity joined with Unite Community in their national day of action against Universal Credit. We held a stall outside the Grafton Centre to talk to the public about the cruelty of Universal Credit and the punitive ‘welfare’ regime of the Department for Work and Pensions.

After the stall, we moved to the Job Centre on Chesterton Road, Cambridge, for a demonstration in solidarity with claimants and to protest the dangerous and cruel changes to the benefits system. We talked to disabled people and other claimants outside the centre. Many of them told us how the toll of long waits and uncertainty had affected them, and we extended our solidarity and shared with them our own experiences of the system.

Protest outside the Job Centre - photo credit James Youd

Protest outside the Job Centre – photo credit James Youd

On the pavement we unfurled a scroll with the names from ‘Calum’s list’,  a list of 65 people (many of them disabled people) who have died as a result of horrendously negative engagements with the Department for Work and Pensions, in their attempt to try to secure the government support that they were entitled to. In many of these cases coroners’ reports have ruled that the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions were instrumental in leading to the deaths of the people involved. In thousands more deaths, welfare cuts have been a major factor.

Towards the end of the protest we went inside the Job Centre to register our objection to the cruel policies that are followed here in Cambridge, and the humiliation that they cause for claimants. As we tried to unfurl our scroll with the names from Calum’s List again, one of the security guards took hold of it, screwing it up and throwing it out through the doors. This disregard for the people who have suffered and died at the hands of the DWP truly shocked us. A member of DPAC who was part of the protest said:

Calum's list of the victims of Welfare "Reform" - Photo Credit Julia Modern

Calum’s list of the victims of Welfare “Reform” – Photo Credit Julia Modern

‘One of the staff members told us “we don’t make the policies”. But by continuing to work to the commands of our vicious government the staff enable the system to continue: a system that is literally killing people, and causing extreme distress to huge numbers of people. As disabled people, we refuse to stay silent while austerity kills us.’

Universal Credit has not yet been rolled out to all disabled people in Cambridge, but the change is scheduled to happen by 2020. Among those who have been switched over countrywide, thousands have lost ‘their ‘severe disability premium’, and the government has been horrendously slow in rectifying this problem.  Universal Credit is also a ‘digital by default’ system meaning that it has to be applied for online; this makes it inaccessible to many.  The coming change to Universal Credit is a clear threat to us.

As we try to bring hope and solidarity to disabled people and other claimants who are stuck in the DWP’s interminable bureaucracy, we also remember those of us who could no longer fight this horrendous system. Our society needs to change – there must be no more deaths from the loss of benefits. Please join us to fight for our rights. You can find us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1465750740224453/

[Ends]

Information for editors

Disabled People Against Cuts Cambridgeshire and Essex is a local group affiliated with the national organisation Disabled People Against Cuts. The local group was formed in 2015, and aims to reverse the cuts to benefit entitlements for disabled people so that we can live in dignity, free of the fear of destitution that we experience currently.

If you would like any further information please email us at CambsEssexDPAC@gmail.com The website for the DPAC national organisation is at https://dpac.uk.net/

 

 Posted by at 13:38
Aug 022019
 

Event details

Date:        Tue 10 Sep 2019 – 13:00 to 15:00
Location:  TUC Congress House,  23-28 Great Russell StreetWC1B 3LS London
Contact:     jowilliams@tuc.org.uk
Cost:         FREE ADMISSION (registration essential)

LESE Disabled Members Network in association with Pensioners’ Network and Transport Industries Network

open meeting with: Heidi Alexander, Deputy Mayor Transport

Tuesday 10 September 2019, 1 – 3pm

Please register: jowilliams@tuc.org.uk or 020 7467 1218
Before joining the Mayor’s team Heidi was the Member of Parliament for Lewisham East. Elected in 2010, she served in the Whips’ Office before being appointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Health. Between 2006 and 2010 Heidi worked as Deputy Mayor of the London Borough of Lewisham and Cabinet Member for Regeneration.
As Deputy Mayor for Transport and Deputy Chair of Transport for London, Heidi will be focused on delivering the Mayor’s transport strategy: ensuring that London has a reliable, comfortable and affordable public transport system accessible to all; creating safe, healthy streets where people want to walk and cycle; and ensuring that new homes and new jobs are part of a sustainable, integrated transport system which delivers good economic growth across London.
 Posted by at 12:10
Aug 012019
 

 

DWP waited 18 months to take safety action on ‘vulnerable’ claimant

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) waited 18 months before it took action to ensure the safety of a benefit claimant it had assessed as “vulnerable” because of significant mental health problems.

Mike Owen told DWP that he was a survivor of child sexual exploitation and was experiencing significant mental distress because of that trauma.

He was coping with both the personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA) systems throughout those 18 months.

But despite being told in May 2017 by DWP’s ministerial correspondence team that he would now be treated as “vulnerable” by both the ESA and PIP departments, that failed to happen.

Owen did not benefit from support from one of DWP’s vulnerable claimant champions (VCCs) for the next 18 months.

During that time, he struggled badly with both the ESA and PIP systems because of DWP’s failure to provide the reasonable adjustments he needed, which caused both his mental and physical health to deteriorate.

Disability News Service (DNS) has seen separate letters to Owen from DWP which show that he should have been treated as “vulnerable” from May 2017, and that “the first recorded instance of your case being referred to [the VCC] was 4 December 2018”.

He was only provided with VCC support in late 2018 after he happened to speak to a couple of senior DWP officers who were both VCCs themselves and told him his PIP claim had been severely mishandled.

Each of them told him he should have been receiving VCC support as early as February 2017, when he first submitted his PIP claim.

Owen is now considering seeking a judicial review of DWP’s safeguarding policies, and he is also hoping that at least four local authorities – in Hull, Leeds, Cardiff and Bootle, each representing areas where a benefit centre dealing with his claims was based – will conduct inquiries into the department’s safeguarding failures.

The Independent Case Examiner is also investigating his complaints about the way DWP has dealt with his PIP and ESA claims.

Owen said he could easily have taken his own life in the 18 months it took DWP to start treating him as a “vulnerable” claimant.

He said: “I now self-harm by punching walls to calm myself down because of everything they have done to me.

They have institutionally penalised me for their own mistakes. It’s not fair on me, nor is it fair on everybody who has gone through PIP.”

He said the delays he endured showed DWP had failed to learn from the deaths of Jodey Whiting and Stephen Smith, both of whom died following serious safeguarding failures by the department.

Owen said: “They haven’t learned from these deaths. They are putting us all at risk.”

He said this showed the importance of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls on DWP to take urgent action to ensure the safety of all benefit claimants, and which says the department should be seen as “not fit for purpose”.

He said he was also speaking out because of his own professional background as a former safeguarding professional.

He said: “I can’t sit on it with my professional background. I can’t not do anything about it.

For me to find out I was deemed as vulnerable in May 2017 and for there to be an 18-month delay before they actioned anything, it put my life at risk.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to confirm that Owen was left without specialist support for 18 months, and he refused to explain why that happened.

But he said that Owen “received specialist support during the PIP process and reasonable adjustments have been made to his ongoing ESA claim”, and that he was still receiving ESA, with staff “in regular contact with him”.

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

Owen said in response: “The evidence is very clear about what happened. They really need to start being honest.

They know this is serious and they need to work out exactly how this happened and why it happened.”

Owen pointed to repeated tragedies and research which have highlighted DWP’s safeguarding failures.

Earlier this year, his research showed DWP and its private sector contractors had been failing for years to alert local authorities to concerns about benefit claimants whose safety was at risk.

He found that only 25 of 80 council social services departments across England, Scotland and Wales said they had received a single safeguarding alert from DWP over the last three years.

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

The following month, Owen told DNS how he had been informed by a senior Maximus executive that the company did not have a safeguarding policy, nearly four years after taking on the WCA contract.

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

In April came the death of Stephen Smith, months after he was found fit for work by DWP despite being in hospital with such severe health problems that his weight had fallen to six stone. DWP had ignored two separate doctors’ letters about Smith’s serious health problems.

And in June, the information commissioner ruled that DWP had broken the law by destroying a damaging internal report about its failure to ensure the safety of benefit claimants in jobcentres.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

1 August 2019

 

 

Anger over appointment of ‘disability hate tweet’ MP as mental health minister

A Tory MP appointed as the new minister for mental health in Boris Johnson’s government is unfit to hold that position because of a disablist message she posted on social media less than two years ago, say disabled campaigners.

Nadine Dorries has been appointed as a junior health minister, replacing Jackie Doyle-Price, with health and social care secretary Matt Hancock welcoming her on Twitter at the weekend as the new “mental health minister”.

But just two years ago, Dorries sent out the following tweet: “Window lickin’ Twitter trolls out in force today.”

That tweet was sent when she was a backbench MP, but her appointment this week as a minister in a disability-related post – she will also have responsibility for suicide prevention – has angered disability hate crime campaigners.

Anne Novis, chair of Inclusion London and an advisor on disability hate crime to the Metropolitan police, said the tweet made Dorries unfit to be minister for mental health.

She said: “As chair of Inclusion London, I would say that we would have great concern over someone who would use the language of hate towards disabled people.

She should not be minister, definitely not. There would be no confidence in her because of what she has brought across through her offensive language.

When people use that language, it betrays an attitude that is derogatory and dismissive of disabled people, a negative attitude towards disabled people.”

She said the term “window lickers” was frequently discussed by trainers in disability equality training sessions, who explain how it originated as a term of abuse for people with Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy because they often cannot control their tongues.

Now, she said, it tends to be used as a term to attack disabled people in general.

Novis said: “It indicates not only that Nadine Dorries would use such offensive language but also that her understanding would be very poor about issues faced by disabled people, including mental health issues.

You wouldn’t accept it around racist, or religious or cultural difference; you just wouldn’t accept that sort of language and expect someone then to go into a post that is meant to be assisting those people.

There would be no confidence in her. We would have no confidence in this person being a minister because of what she has brought across through her language.”

Stephen Brookes, a former coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network, who himself has a mental health condition, said he was concerned about the Dorries tweet and found her appointment “very worrying”.

He also said he did not think she was a fit person to be given the post.

He said: “As somebody who is coming from a mental health background, I do find it disturbing that somebody who issues a tweet like that is given a job relating to mental health.

I have deep concerns about whether they are going to have respect and concern and are going to be a real supporter of the community they are supposed to represent.

If somebody tweets something [like that], in the back of their mind they actually mean it.”

He said he found it “very disturbing that some people are given posts when they have no awareness of the implications of varying and fluctuating mental health conditions.

What we need is someone who understands that and is not just given the job because they happen to be passing Number 10 at the time.”

The Department of Health and Social Care failed to comment by noon today (Thursday), despite promising that it would produce a response to concerns about the tweet and her appointment.

Dorries’ office failed to return messages from DNS by noon today.

Elsewhere, Justin Tomlinson, the minister for disabled people, has been reappointed to his post, as has Caroline Dinenage, the care minister.

Amber Rudd stays in her post as work and pensions secretary.

Nusrat Ghani, the minister responsible for transport accessibility, has been reappointed as maritime minister, while disabled MP Paul Maynard has returned to the Department for Transport (DfT), where he was previously rail minister and had responsibility for accessibility issues.

A DfT spokesperson said it had not yet been confirmed which minister would now be responsible for transport accessibility issues.

1 August 2019

 

 

Failure to extend ILF transition funding would be ‘another nail in coffin’

The government has failed to ease fears that it plans to scrap a vital grant that has been supporting former users of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) for more than three years.

The four-year Former ILF Recipient Grant was agreed in February 2016, with the government agreeing to provide £675 million over four years to local authorities in England.

The announcement of the grant was a significant victory for disabled activists, whose direct action protests had ensured that the plight of former ILF recipients remained a high-profile issue after the fund’s closure on 30 June 2015.

The recipient grant was not ring-fenced, so councils were not forced to spend it supporting former ILF-users, but it has allowed thousands of disabled people with high support needs to continue to live independently since ILF’s closure.

But disabled activists have now pointed out that the four years of funding is due to end next April, and there has been no mention by ministers of any extension to the grant.

And when Disability News Service contacted the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government this week, it refused to say if an extension of the funding was being considered.

Instead, a spokesperson said: “The upcoming [cross-government] spending review will be our opportunity to look at funding for local authorities in the round and work is well underway to secure the resources and flexibilities councils need to deliver services for communities across the country.”

John Kelly, a former ILF-recipient and prominent campaigner, who lives in south-west London, said that any decision to end the grant would be “another nail in the coffin”.

He said: “I don’t want to be alarmist, but things are so awful at the moment that we could be saying goodbye to our rights to independent living, where the limited options on offer could be going back to living in care homes.

Our predictions when ILF closed have all come true. We said it would be a postcode lottery. It is.

We predicted the closure would be a drip, drip erosion of our ability and rights to an independent full life. 

We said that people’s packages may be cut. Some disabled people’s packages have been cut.

We said local authorities wouldn’t be able to cope with applying the principles of independent living to our lives, because all they would be worried about was very basic care needs, because their budgets have been cut. That’s happening. 

We’re in a crisis. That’s not our words, that’s the directors of social services saying it.

We knew local authorities wouldn’t be able to cope with the freedoms that ILF did give. Those freedoms are being threatened more and more. 

And we knew that ILF was working and those freedoms should have been given to more disabled people, not less.”

He added: “In the spending review, they must ensure that that money continues, but critically our rights to independent living must also be reconsidered, protected and actually furthered. 

My life is more than a one-hour call to make sure I am fed and watered.”

Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the government had been “shamed” into providing the transition grant through the efforts of disabled activists.

One example was DPAC launching a direct action protest in the lobby of the House of Commons, days before ILF was due to close, with activists nearly succeeding in breaking into the main Commons chamber during prime minister’s questions.

But she said the transition funding provided by the government, including the four-year extension agreed in 2016, was never ring-fenced.

Clifford said: “Even before the ILF closed some local authorities started making dramatic cuts.

It has been a complete postcode lottery from area to area.

If the grant is ending, it will be a terrible blow to former ILF recipients whose local authorities have been protecting their support packages.

We would be likely to see an even greater level of re-institutionalisation, neglect, denial of opportunity and dehumanisation of people with high support needs living in the community and a greater pressure to go into segregated institutions against their wishes.”

She called on disabled people and allies to support the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance’s Independent Living for the Future campaign, which calls for a new national independent living service that would eliminate the postcode lottery in support, and finally make the right to independent living a reality.

ILF was originally funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, and when it closed on 30 June 2015 it was helping nearly 17,000 disabled people with the highest support needs to live independently.

But ministers decided it should be scrapped, promising instead that nine months’ worth of non-ring-fenced funding would be transferred to councils in England and to devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, to cover the period until April 2016.

It then agreed to extend that funding to English councils for another four years.

There were separate arrangements in Scotland and Wales.

Scotland set up its own Scottish Independent Living Fund on 1 July 2015, after the closure of the UK-wide ILF.

In Wales, a temporary replacement for ILF, the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme, ran from July 2015 but was due to close this spring and be replaced by a system of council-funded support.

But the closure was paused, after campaigning by disabled activists and allies, to allow all WILG recipients to request an independent reassessment of their new council support packages, with the Welsh government promising to fund the reassessments and any extra support they might need as a result.

1 August 2019

 

 

Charities ignore Justice for Jodey evidence

A dozen disability charities have refused to back demands for an inquiry into links between the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the deaths of benefit claimants, despite being reminded of the years of evidence behind those calls.

The 12 charities refused earlier this month to back the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition*, which calls for an inquiry**, and makes other demands aimed at securing justice for those who have died and securing improvements to DWP’s policies and procedures.

Last Friday (26 July), Disability News Service (DNS) and grassroots groups supporting the petition used social media to present evidence to the charities from the last decade that showed the links between DWP and the deaths of claimants, and proved the department’s institutional disablism, safety failings and other serious flaws.

The aim was to persuade just one of the charities to change its position and back the petition.

But the charities – Action on Hearing Loss, Epilepsy Action, Parkinson’s UK, Leonard Cheshire, Mencap, the MS Society, the National Autistic Society, Rethink, RNIB, Scope, Sense, Turning Point – failed to respond to the contact via social media or make any attempt to defend their position.

One manager from Mencap asked on Twitter who DNS had contacted at the charity about the petition, but then failed to follow up her query when DNS asked her to email for further information.

The only other contact from one of the charities this week came from Sense, which emailed a press release to DNS asking for coverage of a series of new fundraising shops.

The non-user-led charities’ refusal to support efforts by disabled people and allies to secure justice for those who have died, ensure DWP improves its record on safety, and enable a recognition that the department is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose angered many campaigners.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, which backs the petition, said: “The lack of response from charities speaks volumes about their priorities and continuing lack of commitment to the lives and safety of disabled people.

However, we’re sure their CEOs will sleep comfortably in their beds knowing that their own vastly inflated salaries are safe.” 

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said: “A so-called ‘charity’ that does not stand up and speak out forcefully for our citizens with the impairments they represent can only be described in one way: parasites.

They are taking pay cheques off the back of the suffering of those whom they were set up to defend.

We call upon all our people with relevant impairments whom these ‘charities’ pretend to fight for to mount letter writing, petitions and telephone campaigns demanding the resignations of these corporate parasites without delay.

They are the betrayers of disabled people. Enough is enough.”

Cllr Pam Thomas, a disabled city councillor in Liverpool and a former activist with the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN), said on Twitter: “There is a long history of charities not supporting disabled people’s activism.

Although they may be happy to take the credit and pretend it was all their doing when disabled people’s campaigns are successful.”

Another long-time disabled activist, artist Tony Heaton, said on Twitter: “The usual suspects… remember the fight for anti-discrimination legislation back in the 1980s…?”

He added: “Too scared to bite the hand that feeds them the crumbs…”

Some claimed the charities’ silence was due to a fear of losing government funding, or because of being “in the pockets of Government”, “feathering their own pockets”, or being “self serving businesses”.

Others suggested it was linked to lobbying laws introduced by the government.

One Twitter-user asked Scope: “I wrote and asked why aren’t you supporting this? You didn’t respond. I emailed, no response.

Could you respond here on Twitter please? It makes people like myself hesitant to approach you as a charity professing to support disability. Thanks.”

Four days later, Scope had failed to respond to his tweet.

One disabled campaigner said: “By not supporting the inquiry they are just saying their #DutyofCare to their #ServiceUsers is diminished due to gov influence. Hang your heads in shame!!”

Other Twitter users said the charities’ silence meant they were “complicit” in the hostile environment for disabled people created by the government.

Many Twitter users said they would no longer donate to the charities because of their failure to support the petition.

Jodey Whiting died in February 2017, 15 days after she had her out-of-work disability benefits mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment.

The Independent Case Examiner concluded earlier this year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case.

But her death was only the latest avoidable tragedy to be linked to DWP’s actions, with previous deaths stretching back nearly a decade.

*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee

**Although not supporting the petition, Mencap has said it backs an “independent examination” of DWP policies and practices in relation to “vulnerable claimants”. Epilepsy Action supports an inquiry, but also does not back the petition

 

**Although not supporting the petition, Mencap has said it backs an “independent examination” of DWP policies and practices in relation to “vulnerable claimants”. Epilepsy Action supports an inquiry, but also does not back the petition

***The MS Society has asked DNS to make clear that it was not aware of the tweets sent out to the 12 charities on 26 July, due to an error by DNS.

It does not support the petition, and has made clear that the evidence shared by DNS on 26 July would not have persuaded it to change its mind if it had been aware of the tweets.

But the charity says that it does back much of the petition. It believes that DWP should urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority, and it supports the call for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of DWP, and for any evidence of criminal misconduct to be passed to police. However, it says that any recognition that DWP is not fit for purpose and is institutionally disablist should be determined by the inquiry.

Through its MS: Enough campaign, it is calling on the government to make immediate changes to the social security system so disabled people ‘can rely on support when they need it, without unnecessary burden or constant fear of having it taken away’.

DNS has apologised to the MS Society for the error and is happy to put the record straight.

1 August 2019

 

 

Anger grows as police force edges towards releasing DWP ‘sharing agreement’

Disabled activists will meet this week to discuss how to respond to a police force that has admitted it has an agreement to share information with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about benefit claimants who take part in protests.

Concerns about links between DWP and police forces such as Greater Manchester Police (GMP) – and the impact on disabled people’s right to protest – first emerged last December after Disability News Service (DNS) reported that forces had been targeting disabled people taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

But the concerns have now spread beyond anti-fracking protests to other pieces of direct action and protests in which disabled people have taken part.

DNS has been trying for months to confirm that there is a written agreement in place that allows GMP to share information with DWP about protesters who may be claiming disability-related benefits.

Once the existence of that agreement is confirmed, campaigners are likely to ask whether DWP has similar “sharing agreements” with other police forces, and what information they allow officers to share with the department.

Manchester’s deputy mayor has this week asked Greater Manchester Police for information about the document, months after she was promised by senior police officers that no such agreement existed.

The force’s press office has also finally admitted that the document exists, blaming a “misunderstanding” for its previous denial that it had such an agreement with DWP.

Today (Thursday), the force’s information management department appeared to be in the final stages of preparing the document for its release to DNS.

Last week’s DNS story that the information management team had confirmed that the “sharing agreement” existed has sparked anger among disabled people and their allies.

Some described the force’s actions as “shameful”, “disgusting”, a “disgrace”, and “deeply disturbing” and “anti democratic”, while others suggested on Twitter that GMP was breaching disabled people’s human rights.

Rick Burgess, of Manchester Disabled People Against Cuts (MDPAC), told DNS that he and his colleagues were “shocked and dismayed” at the “attempt to intimidate us into not protesting”.

He said: “I know there are people who will not come to protests because of this, because of fear of being reported to DWP and then becoming penniless and homeless just for exercising our democratic right to protest. It’s despicable.”

MDPAC is meeting this week to discuss what action it will take.

GMP’s press office finally commented on the agreement last night – after refusing to do so last week – and appeared to accept that there was a sharing agreement.

A GMP spokesperson told DNS: “Can I clarify that we’ve solved the misunderstanding around the choice of words we’ve used about a ‘sharing agreement’?

I hope you understand that by this we mean the agreement to share information between agencies, which is what we did under [section 29] of the Data Protection Act, which allows agencies to share information for a policing purpose.”

But it has failed to explain why GMP previously denied the existence of any such sharing agreement.

The force press office itself said in February that there was no formal sharing agreement in place with DWP.

But an information compliance and records management officer with the force has told DNS that he has now obtained a copy of the information sharing agreement and is preparing it for release.

A previous GMP freedom of information response stated that any information shared with DWP was “done under data protection legislation, not as part of a formal agreement policy (ISA Information Sharing Agreement)”.

And senior police officers told Greater Manchester’s deputy mayor for policing, Baroness [Bev] Hughes, in February that there was “no formal ‘sharing agreement’ in place and that the police act on a case by case basis, sharing information in accordance with the Data Protection Act”.

The GMP press office had failed by noon today (Thursday) to explain how this could be described as “a misunderstanding around the choice of words” rather than a deliberate intention to mislead, but insisted that “we have not intentionally misled you”.

DNS contacted Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) this week to ask whether Baroness Hughes was concerned about the force’s admission when she was assured by senior officers in February that there was no sharing agreement with DWP.

A GMCA spokesperson said: “We are awaiting information on this from Greater Manchester Police.”

1 August 2019

 

 

Equality watchdog’s ‘head in sand’ failure to listen, after MPs call for ‘bolder’ action

The equality watchdog has been accused of a “head in the sand” failure to respond to significant criticisms by MPs about its failure to enforce anti-discrimination legislation.

In a new report, the Commons women and equalities committee calls on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to “overcome its timidity”, “refocus its work”, “be bolder” in using its powers, and increase its enforcement of the Equality Act.

But the commission has refused to respond to the criticisms in the report, and instead has issued a statement praising its own performance.

The report says repeated inquiries have found EHRC “failing to act in areas of significant inequality and unable to provide an adequate explanation of why it appears not to be able to fulfil the role of a robust enforcer of equality law”.

The committee asked a series of witnesses if they thought organisations and businesses worried about EHRC taking legal action against them. Not one of them thought they did.

The report says that the commission has never used some of its unique legal powers.

It says the commission has applied for injunctions to prevent unlawful discrimination on just seven occasions, none of which the committee could find information about on the EHRC website.

And there has been just one formal investigation since 2009-10 and no assessments of how organisations are complying with the public sector equality duty, which was brought in by the Equality Act 2010.

The report concludes: “The result of this is that the burden of enforcement has been borne by individuals, even where the EHRC has become involved.”

It warns that disabled people and other individuals are facing discrimination “because employers and service providers are not afraid to discriminate, knowing that they are unlikely to be held to account”.

And it calls on EHRC to “significantly increase the volume, transparency and publicity of its enforcement work by making much greater use of its unique enforcement powers, publicising that work and reducing its reliance on individual complainants”.

Although the committee acknowledged that the commission had had its budget cut by nearly £42 million since 2007, it said it was still repeatedly underspending on its budget, with a forecast underspend of £689,000 for 2018-19.

The committee also said it was “deeply concerned” by the way the commission had handled discrimination claims made by its own staff during its latest restructuring programme.

Despite the criticism and multiple recommendations relating to its work, EHRC refused to say if it welcomed the report, if it agreed with the committee’s conclusions, or if it would consider the recommendations for improvement.

Instead, it issued a statement describing itself as a “confident and robust defender of people’s rights”, although it failed in the statement to give any examples of how it had tackled disability discrimination.

A spokesperson said EHRC had doubled the number of legal cases it had taken in the last few years, and that it had “helped more individuals and started a number of high profile investigations”.

The only recommendations it welcomed were those where the committee had agreed with its own previous calls for action on access to justice and strengthening the public sector equality duty.

The spokesperson said the commission was “always looking to improve” and was already planning to “focus on larger, longer-term interventions to achieve greater impact and make more use of our unique powers to ensure justice for those whose rights are breached”.

The committee received written evidence from more than 200 individuals and organisations for its Enforcing the Equality Act report, including several disabled people’s organisations.

It also heard oral evidence from disabled campaigners Doug Paulley, Esther Leighton and Jeanine Blamires – who discussed the challenges they experienced when they took organisations to court for disability discrimination – and Mike Smith, a former EHRC disability commissioner.

The report concludes: “While individuals must still have the right to challenge discrimination in the courts, the system of enforcement should ensure that this is only rarely needed.

This requires a fundamental shift in the way that enforcement of the Equality Act is thought about and applied.”

Paulley welcomed the report and said he agreed with its conclusions on disability rights and the law, EHRC and enforcement of the Equality Act 2010.

But he said EHRC’s response to the report had avoided the significant criticisms of its work by the committee.

He said: “The EHRC’s ‘head in the sand’ avoidance of the significant reasoned and evidenced criticisms in the report is redolent of the very behaviour that is subject to the criticism: failure to engage with issues and concerns in a proactive way, and failure to embrace opportunities to better serve the disadvantaged people they purport to support.”

As well as criticism of EHRC’s work, the report also calls for regulators, ombudsmen and inspectorates to take more action to enforce the Equality Act.

And it calls on the government to make a “fundamental shift” in how it enforces the act, and act on its own legal obligation to “embed compliance and enforcement” into “its most significant strategies and action plans”.

The committee said it had seen “repeated examples” of government strategies that have failed to recognise discrimination “let alone contain actions to secure compliance with the Equality Act”.

The report says the government’s failure to do this in connection with its recent focus on improving the workplace “beggars belief”.

It adds: “This failure leaves the Government at serious risk of breaching the public sector equality duty in its most important strategies and means that individuals facing discrimination continue to bear the full burden of enforcement, even in policy areas that the Government has identified as of central importance to the country.”

Maria Miller, the Conservative chair of the committee, said: “Employers and service providers are not afraid to discriminate, knowing that they are unlikely to be held to account.

We need a critical mass of cases to build a culture where compliance with the Equality Act is the norm.

The EHRC must overcome its timidity. It has unique powers, limited resources and must use them for maximum impact.

It should make regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen not only key partners in creating a critical mass of enforcement action but also key targets for enforcement action when those same regulators, inspectorates and ombudsmen fail to meet their own equality duties.”

1 August 2019

 

 

Ministers’ plans on ‘toxic’ impact of driver-only trains fall way short, says DPTAC

The Department for Transport (DfT) is falling “a very long way short” with its plans to ease the “toxic” impact on disabled people of running driver-only trains through unstaffed stations, according to the government’s own accessible transport advisers.

A letter from the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), obtained by the Association of British Commuters (ABC) through a freedom of information request, has revealed DPTAC’s deep concerns about how the government’s rail policies will affect disabled passengers.

DPTAC – most of whose members are disabled people – wrote to two transport ministers after reading a report by consultants Steer, and associated guidance produced by DfT, on how different methods of operating trains affect disabled people.

In the letter (PDF), sent on 9 April, DPTAC chair Keith Richards expresses repeated concerns about the Steer research, and warns that its conclusions should be used only “with extreme caution”.

It warns that the “mitigation” suggested by DfT – based on the research – for situations where there are no rail staff available to assist disabled passengers is “wholly inadequate”.

And the letter reminds the two ministers – Nusrat Ghani and Andrew Jones – of DPTAC’s “frequently-stated concern over staffing levels and, in particular, the potentially toxic combination of driver-only operated [DOO] trains and unstaffed stations”.

The DPTAC letter says the mitigations suggested in DfT’s guidance fall “a very long way short” of the objective of allowing “disabled people to use the rail network on a non-discriminatory basis”.

But the letter does say that the Steer report shows there are “only very limited opportunities” to provide such mitigation if staff are not available either on board the train or at stations to assist disabled passengers.

DPTAC says that the “availability of staff to provide assistance is crucial to the ability of many disabled passengers (and indeed older passengers more generally) to make rail journeys”.

It also warns DfT that it should take legal advice on whether forcing disabled passengers to travel on DOO trains to unstaffed stations would breach the Equality Act and other laws and regulations.

And it calls for a “fundamental review” by DfT to ensure that disabled passengers “are able to use the rail network on a non discriminatory basis”.

Almost 12 months ago, ABC published letters, minutes of meetings and responses to public consultations – again obtained through the Freedom of Information Act – which showed the government had repeatedly ignored warnings from DPTAC about the “toxic combination” of running trains through unstaffed stations without a member of customer service staff on board.

Ann Bates, a leading transport access consultant and former rail chair of DPTAC, told Disability News Service: “I was delighted that DPTAC seem so alert to the dangers reducing staff would have to the frequently and rightly stated aim that disabled passengers should have an equal right to travel as other passengers.

DPTAC’s letter to the ministers dated 9 April 2019 is entirely correct in stating that, especially in the toxic situation of DOO trains travelling to staffless stations, there would appear to be no easily implemented mitigation available.

This confirms work that ABC and others have been researching for years in that running trains with well trained staff would be the most pragmatic and reliable way of ensuring access for the full range of passengers with both visible and invisible disabilities.”

ABC’s Emily Yates said: “After three years of rail strikes we’ve had enough of the government’s charade.

Train operating companies must guarantee the second safety critical member of staff on trains and the Department for Transport must provide the full details of their secret policy [to allow more DOO trains].

If they fail to do this, both will be complicit in breaching the Equality Act and excluding disabled people from the right to spontaneous travel.”

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT rail union, said: “RMT has fought the government and the train operating companies tooth and nail to defend a second safety critical member of staff on our trains and we’ve stepped up the campaign to put more staff back in our stations.

The new rail minister must publish this report, put an end to this disgraceful exercise and put staff back at the heart of a fully accessible railway.”

A DfT spokesperson had refused by noon today (Thursday) to say if the department accepted and understood the concerns about the combination of DOO and unstaffed stations raised by DPTAC, and if it accepted DPTAC’s recommendations to take legal advice on potential breaches of the Equality Act and to carry out a review.

But he said in a statement: “Disabled passengers should have the same opportunities to travel as everyone else, which is why we expect all train operators to have clear plans in place for how they will help passengers who need it.

We continue to work with DPTAC on this issue and will look to publish the [Steer] report in due course.”

Meanwhile, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has published new guidance for the rail industry aimed at improving access to Britain’s railway for older and disabled people.

The new guidance, which follows two public consultations, tells train and station operators what they “must” include in their own Accessible Travel Policies – which are replacing Disabled Persons’ Protection Policies – as well as setting out recommended good practice that those policies “may” also feature.

ORR says operators must set out in their Accessible Travel Policies how they will ensure they spend enough on assisting disabled passengers through the Passenger Assist service.

And it describes how the notice that disabled passengers must give to book assistance in advance must gradually be cut until the minimum is just two hours from 1 April 2022.

ORR says train operators must set out a policy on carrying mobility scooters and “make the reasoning behind their policy clear”, while any policy that excludes some or all scooters or mobility aids “must only be as a result of an evidenced safety or physical restriction”.

And it says train and station operators “must operate a regular forum of disabled passengers, to include users of assisted travel, with whom they consult on accessibility issues”.

They must also ensure that the information on step-free access, assisted travel and the availability of staff help that is included on the station pages of the National Rail Enquiries website is “up to date and accurate”.

The new guidance should make it easier for disabled passengers to receive compensation if the assistance they book in advance fails to be provided, and it should also lead to improved staff training.

Some of the guidance featured in recommendations made by ORR to the Williams Rail Review earlier this month.

1 August 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:21
Jul 302019
 

Picnics are a health outcome

MHRN invites you to the big FREE solidarity picnic in

Hyde Park, London

3.00pm – 7.30pm, Wednesday 14th August 2019

Dogs welcome (but no chasing squirrels)

Enjoy poetry and music performances from 5pm

MHRN will provide food, but bring more to share if you can and bring a bottle if you want

The event is free, but if you wish, you can donate to the crowdfund page for the picnic

Picnics are a health outcome MHRN invites you to the big FREE solidarity picnic in Hyde Park, London 3.00pm - 7.30pm, Wednesday 14th August 2019 Dogs welcome (but no chasing squirrels) Enjoy poetry and music performances from 5pm MHRN will provide food, but bring more to share if you can and bring a bottle if you want

MHRN is campaigning to remove the statement “work is a health outcome” for mental distress from the NHS England Long Term Plan

Join us in celebration of our community

Nearest tube stations:
Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner
Buses 9,23,52,70,360,452,2,16, 36, 38, 148, 90

Email: resistmh18@gmail.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/MHResist
Enquiries: 07533090830

MHRN is campaigning to remove the statement "work is a health outcome" for mental distress from the NHS England Long Term Plan Join us in celebration of our community Nearest tube stations: Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner Buses 9,23,52,70,360,452,2,16, 36, 38, 148, 90 Email: resistmh18@gmail.com Facebook: www.facebook.com/MHResist Enquiries: 07533090830

 Posted by at 15:08