Nov 172018
 

Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights

Version with footnotes (PDF)

London, 16 November 2018

Introduction

The UK is the world’s fifth largest economy, it contains many areas of immense wealth, its capital is a leading centre of global finance, its entrepreneurs are innovative and agile, and despite the current political turmoil, it has a system of government that rightly remains the envy of much of the world.  It thus seems patently unjust and contrary to British values that so many people are living in poverty. This is obvious to anyone who opens their eyes to see the immense growth in foodbanks and the queues waiting outside them, the people sleeping rough in the streets, the growth of homelessness, the sense of deep despair that leads even the Government to appoint a Minister for suicide prevention and civil society to report in depth on unheard of levels of loneliness and isolation.  And local authorities, especially in England, which perform vital roles in providing a real social safety net have been gutted by a series of government policies.  Libraries have closed in record numbers, community and youth centers have been shrunk and underfunded, public spaces and buildings including parks and recreation centers have been sold off.  While the labour and housing markets provide the crucial backdrop, the focus of this report is on the contribution made by social security and related policies.

The results? 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%.   For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.

But the full picture of low-income well-being in the UK cannot be captured by statistics alone.  Its manifestations are clear for all to see.  The country’s most respected charitable groups, its leading think tanks, its parliamentary committees, independent authorities like the National Audit Office, and many others, have all drawn attention to the dramatic decline in the fortunes of the least well off in this country.  But through it all, one actor has stubbornly resisted seeing the situation for what it is.  The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial.  Even while devolved authorities in Scotland and Northern Ireland are frantically trying to devise ways to ‘mitigate’, or in other words counteract, at least the worst features of the Government’s benefits policy, Ministers insisted to me that all is well and running according to plan.  Some tweaks to basic policy have reluctantly been made, but there has been a determined resistance to change in response to the many problems which so many people at all levels have brought to my attention.  The good news is that many of the problems could readily be solved if the Government were to acknowledge the problems and consider some of the recommendations below.

In my travels across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland I met with people living in poverty, whether old, young, disabled, in work or not.  I talked with civil society, front line workers, work coaches, and officials from local, devolved, and UK governments; and visited community organizations, social housing, a Jobcentre, a food bank, an advice center, a library, and a primary school.  I also met a range of Ministers in the central government and in Wales, as well as with the First Minister in Scotland.  I spoke at length with politicians from all of the major political parties.

In the past two weeks I have talked with people who depend on food banks and charities for their next meal, who are sleeping on friends’ couches because they are homeless and don’t have a safe place for their children to sleep, who have sold sex for money or shelter, children who are growing up in poverty unsure of their future, young people who feel gangs are the only way out of destitution, and people with disabilities who are being told they need to go back to work or lose support, against their doctor’s orders.

I have also seen tremendous resilience, strength, and generosity, with neighbors supporting one another, councils seeking creative solutions, and charities stepping in to fill holes in government services. I also heard stories of deeply compassionate work coaches and of a regional Jobcenter director who had transformed the ethos in the relevant offices.

Although the provision of social security to those in need is a public service and a vital anchor to prevent people being pulled into poverty, the policies put in place since 2010 are usually discussed under the rubric of austerity.  But this framing leads the inquiry in the wrong direction.  In the area of poverty-related policy, the evidence points to the conclusion that the driving force has not been economic but rather a commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering.  Successive governments have brought revolutionary change in both the system for delivering minimum levels of fairness and social justice to the British people, and especially in the values underpinning it.  Key elements of the post-war Beveridge social contract are being overturned.  In the process, some good outcomes have certainly been achieved, but great misery has also been inflicted unnecessarily, especially on the working poor, on single mothers struggling against mighty odds, on people with disabilities who are already marginalized, and on millions of children who are being locked into a cycle of poverty from which most will have great difficulty escaping.

Most of the political debate around social well-being in the UK has focused only on the goals sought to be achieved.  These goals are in many respects admirable, even though some have been controversial.  They include a commitment to place employment at the heart of anti-poverty policy, a quest for greater efficiency and cost savings, a determination to simplify an excessively complicated and unwieldy benefits system, a desire to increase the uptake of benefits by those entitled, removing the ‘welfare cliff’ that deterred beneficiaries from seeking work, and a desire to provide more skills training.

But Universal Credit and the other far-reaching changes to the role of government in supporting people in distress are almost always ‘sold’ as being part of an unavoidable program of fiscal ‘austerity’, needed to save the country from bankruptcy.  In fact, however, the reforms have almost certainly cost the country far more than their proponents will admit.  The many billions advertised as having been extracted from the benefits system since 2010 have been offset by the additional resources required to fund emergency services by families and the community, by local government, by doctors and hospital accident and emergency centres, and even by the ever-shrinking and under-funded police force.

Leaving the economics of change to one side, it is the underlying values and the ethos shaping the design and implementation of specific measures that have generated the greatest problems.  The government has made no secret of its determination to change the value system to focus more on individual responsibility, to place major limits on government support, and to pursue a single-minded, and some have claimed simple-minded, focus on getting people into employment at all costs.  Many aspects of this program are legitimate matters for political contestation, but it is the mentality that has informed many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society.  British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach apparently designed to instill discipline where it is least useful, to impose a rigid order on the lives of those least capable of coping with today’s world, and elevating the goal of enforcing blind compliance over a genuine concern to improve the well-being of those at the lowest levels of British society.  I provide various examples later in this statement.

Brexit
My report comes at a critical moment in the debate over Brexit.  I take no position on its merits or on the optimal terms for undertaking it, but anyone concerned with poverty in the UK has reason to be very deeply concerned.  Whatever happens in the period ahead, we know that deep uncertainty will persist for a long time, that economic growth rates are likely to take a strong hit, and that tax revenues will fall significantly.  If current policies towards low income working people and others living in poverty are maintained in the face of these developments, the poor will be substantially less well off than they already are.   This could well lead to significant public discontent, further division and even instability, thus underscoring the importance that steps be taken now to avoid such outcomes.

There are many concerns linked to Brexit.  Given the vast number of policies, programs and spending priorities that will need to be addressed over the next few years, and the major changes that will inevitably accompany them, it is the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of society who will be least able to cope and will take the biggest hit. The IMF has suggested that a no-deal Brexit could cost the UK economy somewhere between 5% and 8% of GDP, representing a loss of thousands of pounds per household.

In my meetings with the government, it was clear to me that the impact of Brexit on people in poverty is an afterthought, to be dealt with through manipulations of fiscal policy after the event, if at all. But Brexit will have serious consequences in this domain and the challenges need to be dealt with head on. A lack of clarity is preventing families at risk of poverty from planning for its impact. People feel their homes, jobs, and communities are at risk.  Ironically, it was these very fears and insecurity that contributed significantly to the Brexit vote.

The fall in the value of the pound has already increased the cost of living for people in poverty by £400 pounds per year, and researchers have estimated that the UK economy is already 2-2.5% smaller than it would otherwise have been. Almost all studies have shown that the UK economy will be worse off because of Brexit, with consequences for inflation, real wages, and consumer prices. According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, if the government does not adequately uprate benefits to account for inflation after Brexit, up to 900,000 more people could fall into poverty. This would strain a social support system that has been gutted in recent years.

The vote for Brexit reflects a great value being placed on the notion of sovereignty. But while people in a democracy are entitled to prioritize sovereignty through such a vote, it is imperative for steps to be taken to protect the most vulnerable and to ensure that the further fiscal consolidation measures called for by the Government and the International Monetary Fund should not be achieved at the risk of making that group of people even worse off.

The UK stands to lose billions of pounds in EU funds that will disproportionately affect the poorer areas that have most benefited from them, including almost £9 billion in poverty reduction funding between 2014 and 2020. Although the government has announced a “shared prosperity fund” to replace this funding, local and devolved governments told me they had no information about the fund or how it would operate—just five months before Brexit. Time is running out. Brexit could also have particularly harsh consequences for people living in Northern Ireland, with people living on the border and dependent on trade or cross-border employment.

If the European Charter of Fundamental Rights becomes no longer applicable in the UK, the level of human rights protections enjoyed by the population will be significantly diminished.  The UK should not roll back EU-derived human rights protections on workplace regulation and inequality.

Universal Credit
No single program embodies the combination of the benefits reforms and the promotion of austerity programs more than Universal Credit.  Although in its initial conception it represented a potentially major improvement in the system, it is fast falling into Universal Discredit.

Social support should be a route out of poverty, and Universal Credit should be a key part of that process. Consolidating six different benefits into one makes good sense, in principle.  But many aspects of the design and rollout of the programme have suggested that the Department for Work and Pensions is more concerned with making economic savings and sending messages about lifestyles than responding to the multiple needs of those living with a disability, job loss, housing insecurity, illness, and the demands of parenting. While some surveys suggest certain claimants do have positive experiences with Universal Credit, an increasing body of research makes clear that there are far too many instances in which Universal Credit is being implemented in ways that negatively impact many claimants’ mental health, finances, and work prospects.

In addition to all of the negative publicity about Universal Credit in the UK media and among politicians of all parties, I have heard countless stories from people who told me of the severe hardships they have suffered under Universal Credit. When asked about these problems, Government ministers were almost entirely dismissive, blaming political opponents for wanting to sabotage their work, or suggesting that the media didn’t really understand the system and that Universal Credit was unfairly blamed for problems rooted in the old legacy system of benefits.

The Universal Credit system is designed with a five week delay between when people successfully file a claim and when they receive benefits. Research suggests that this “waiting period,” which actually often takes up to 12 weeks, pushes many who may already be in crisis into debt, rent arrears, and serious hardship, requiring them to sacrifice food or heat. Given the delay, which will only be partially mitigated by a recent concession, it is no surprise that the majority of claimants seek “advance payments,” which in turn must be repaid to DWP in relatively short order. Additionally, debts to DWP and to third-parties can be deducted from already meager Universal Credit payments at a rate much higher than is the case with the older benefit system. While supposedly deductions are capped at a maximum rate of 40% of the standard allowance portion of the payment (which will change to 30% in a year’s time), the Government told me that in fact additional clawbacks can occur. These so-called “Last Resort Deductions” are for matters such as rent, gas, and electricity arrears, if it is judged to be in the best interest of a claimant or their household.

The rationales offered for the delay are entirely illusory, and the motivation strikes me as a combination of cost-saving, enhanced cashflows, and wanting to make clear that being on benefits should involve hardship. Instead, recipients are immediately plunged into further debt and inevitably struggle mightily to survive.

There are undoubtedly many people who have benefited from the Universal Credit system, and many of the Jobcentre staff play important roles in supporting and encouraging their clients.  But many claimants also feel that they are forced to jump through hoops for the sake of it, fill out pointless job applications for positions that do not match their qualifications, and take inappropriate low-paid, temporary work just to avoid debilitating sanctions. One Conservative Party MP with whom I spoke criticized DWP for adopting a military-style command and control approach rather than seeking to empower their clients and instill confidence.

The digital-by-default feature of Universal Credit is highly controversial and a detailed assessment of this aspect is found on page 7 below.

When claimants contest assessments that they consider to be wrong, there is a clear sense that the Orwellian named anonymous ‘decision-maker’ rarely varies the approach.  Similarly the requirement that before appealing a disability assessment to a tribunal a phase of mandatory reconsideration must take place is considered by many observers to be little more than a delaying tactic.

One of the key features of Universal Credit involves the imposition of draconian sanctions, even for infringements that seem minor.  Endless anecdotal evidence was presented to the Special Rapporteur to illustrate the harsh and arbitrary nature of some of the sanctions, as well as the devastating effects that resulted from being completely shut out of the benefits system for weeks or months at a time.  As the system grows older, some penalties will soon be measured in years. 

Recent statistics indicate dramatic fluctuations in sanctioning, perhaps reflecting different instructions from on high. For unemployed people, between 6% and 8% are subjected to sanctions, and 31% of sanctions were for a period exceeding three months, and one in eight were over six months. A recent book characterized the sanctions as being cruel, inhuman and degrading, and the Inquiry undertaken by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities found “evidence of grave and systematic violation of the rights of persons with disabilities,” partly on the basis of the sanctions regime.

Many detailed studies have been undertaken which give substance to the harsh consequences that ensue for vulnerable claimants who are sanctioned.   Departmental and Ministerial insistence notwithstanding, there is no clear evidence that recent high employment rates in the UK are due to sanctions, or that blunt and harsh sanctions are superior to far less harmful methods to encourage compliance with conditionality. Indeed, a real deficiency in the data DWP provides about sanctions makes it difficult to assess the regime. DWP does not make public sanctions data disaggregated by race or ethnicity, much less certain other claimant statuses such as single parents or carers. It is also impossible to determine from the data the number of sanctions that an individual has received, so it is not clear if the duration of sanctions is due to consecutive sanctions or rather an individual sanction of longer duration.What is clear from those with whom the Special Rapporteur has spoken, is that sanctions succeed in instilling a fear and loathing of the system in many claimants.

The government says it is taking an experimental “test and learn” approach to Universal Credit, but there seems to be an unacknowledged risk that this approach could treat vulnerable people like guinea pigs and wreak havoc in real peoples’ lives. “Test and learn” cannot be a decade-long excuse for failing to properly design a system that is meant to guarantee the social security of so many, and it does not remedy the damage done to those who were thrown into debt or out of their houses, or made to rely on food banks before the improvements kicked in.

As I spoke with local authorities and the voluntary sector about their preparations for the future rollout of Universal Credit, I was struck by how much their mobilization resembled the sort of activity one might expect for an impending natural disaster or health epidemic. They have expended significant expense and energy to protect people from what is supposed to be a support system. Scotland has repeatedly urged the Government to halt the rollout and paid DWP for the introduction of certain flexibilities for claimants, such as the ability to receive payments more frequently. This is a constant complaint, and while some beneficiaries are happy with monthly payments, a great many suffer as a result of the arrangement, and may end up visitng the food bank or forgoing heating just to stretch a very small amount out over an entire month.  While cost has been cited by DWP as one justification for being inflexible and unresponsive, vast amounts have already been expended on automating the system and I am unaware of any precise costing estimate to justify the resistance to implementing this reform.

A Digital Welfare State
Relatively unnoticed amidst the turmoil of Brexit, the UK government announced the ‘total transformation’ of government in 2017. The 2017 Government Transformation Strategy was presented as “the most ambitious programme of change of any government anywhere in the world.” Not only will government services become ‘digital by default,’ as was first announced in 2012, but the inner workings of government itself will be transformed in a push for automation aided by data science and artificial intelligence.

There are few places in government where these developments are more tangible than in the benefit system. We are witnessing the gradual disappearance of the postwar British welfare state behind a webpage and an algorithm. In its place, a digital welfare state is emerging. The impact on the human rights of the most vulnerable in the UK will be immense.

Universal Credit as a Digital by Default Service
The UK government made Universal Credit the first major government service that is ‘digital by default.’ This means that an entitlement claim is made online and that the beneficiary then interacts with authorities mainly through an online portal. One wonders why some of the most vulnerable and those with poor digital literacy had to go first in what amounts to a nationwide digital experiment.

From the outset, the belief within DWP has been that the overwhelming majority of Universal Credit claimants are online and digitally skilled, and confident enough to claim and maintain benefits digitally. Despite contrary indications from some officials, the relevant documents show DWP’s assumption that most people are at ease and competent online.

Overall rollout of broadband internet in the UK may be high, but those figures hide the fact that many poorer and more vulnerable household are effectively offline and without digital skills. According to 2017 Ofcom figures, only 47% of those on low income use broadband internet at home. Only 42% of those who are unemployed and 43% of those on low income do their banking online. According to the Lloyds Bank UK Consumer Digital Index 2018, 21% of the UK population do not have five basic digital skills and 16% of the population is not able to fill out an online application form.

Universal Credit has built a digital barrier that effectively obstructs many individuals’ access to their entitlements. Women, older people, people who do not speak English and the disabled are more likely to be unable to overcome this hurdle. According to a 2017 Citizens Advice survey, 52% of its clients in ‘full service’ Universal Credit areas found the online application process difficult. According to DWP’s own survey from June 2018, only 54% of all claimants were able to apply online independently, without assistance. As of March of this year, only about one third of all Universal Credit claimants could verify their identity online via GOV.UK Verify, a crucial step in the application process.

Again, despite official protestations to the contrary, ‘digital by default’ is really much closer to digital only. Since Universal Credit was announced in 2010, DWP has always underlined that alternative routes to this benefit needed to be “kept to a minimum.” According to its own figures, 95% of Universal Credit claims they receive are made online. DWP points to the Universal Credit Helpline as an alternative route, but long waiting times and call center staff who, according to civil society organizations, are often poorly trained, make this a very frustrating alternative. Jobcentres, many of which have been closed, offer online access, but very little digital assistance is available and official policy is to keep ‘face-to-face’ help at a minimum. Only in really exceptional cases will work coaches make a home visit to offer digital support.

The reality is that digital assistance has been outsourced to public libraries and civil society organizations. Public libraries are on the frontline of helping the digitally excluded and digitally illiterate who wish to claim their right to Universal Credit. While library budgets have been severely cut across the country, they still have to deal with an influx of Universal Credit claimants who arrive at the library, often in a panic, to get help claiming benefits online. In Newcastle alone, the first city where ‘full service’ Universal Credit was rolled out in May 2016, the City Library has digitally assisted nearly 2,000 customers between August 2017 and September 2018.

Many claimants also rely on digital help from benefits rights organizations and charities that are already under pressure from a range of cuts and other demands. They currently receive minimal funding from DWP to deliver Assisted Digital Support, which only covers 2 hours of help with the original application and is not nearly enough to cover the demand for support. As of next year, Citizens Advice will be funded by DWP as the sole provider of Assisted Digital Support, with a total budget of £39 million spread out over several years, which must also cover personal budgeting support. Not only is this a small amount in light of the need, but it diverts funding away from public libraries and other organizations which have set up improvised digital support programs.

Around one third of new Universal Credit claims fail in the application process and never reach the payment stage. Many of those cases may be related to the design of the DWP system. I am unaware of any effort by DWP to estimate the number of people who do not even attempt to apply due to digital exclusion.

Automated Benefits
While Universal Credit is a very visible example of digital transformation, an even more significant digital change is happening within the walls of central and local authorities. The merging of six legacy benefits into one new Universal Credit system aimed at reaching millions of UK citizens is in fact a major automation project. The collection of data via the online application process and interactions with the online journal provide a clear stepping stone for further automation within DWP.

One example is the Real Time Information (RTI) system, which takes HMRC data on earnings submitted by employers and shares it with DWP, which in turn uses this data to automatically calculate monthly benefits. As DWP explained to the Special Rapporteur, Universal Credit is only possible because of the automated calculation of benefits via RTI.

But with automation comes error at scale. Various experts and civil society organizations pointed to problems with the data feed, including through wrong or late information transmitted by employers to HMRC. According to DWP, a team of 50 civil servants work full-time on dealing with the 2% of the millions of monthly transactions that are incorrect. Because the default position of DWP is to give the automated system the benefit of the doubt, claimants often have to wait for weeks to get paid the proper amount, even when they have written proof that the system was wrong. An old-fashioned pay slip is deemed irrelevant when the information on the computer is different.

Another area of major transformation is that of automated fraud and error detection and prevention. Serious investments have been made by DWP to undertake data matching to identify fraud and error in the context of the Generalised Matching Service. Over the years, millions of inconsistency matches have led to further investigations for fraud and error. At the local level, DWP has subsidized ‘risk-based verification systems’, mostly built by private IT vendors, which flag claimants for low, medium or high risk of fraud and error, thus allowing local authorities to investigate high risk cases more closely. At present, DWP is developing a “fully automated risk analysis and intelligence system for fraud and error,” which will go beyond automatically finding inconsistencies between different databases and aims to prevent fraud and error by using new tools including Artificial Intelligence.

An Artificial Future?
Artificial Intelligence is very much in fashion and there are many related initiatives in the UK. The Prime Minister aims to “propel Britain to global leadership of the industries of the future” including through the use of big data and artificial intelligence, and one of the ‘Grand Challenges’ of the November 2017 Industrial Strategy is to put the UK “at the forefront of the AI and data revolution.” The House of Lords will debate a recent report on Artificial Intelligence on Monday, and new institutions such as the AI Council, the government Office for AI and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation are being set up.

Government is increasingly automating itself with the use of data and new technology tools, including AI. Evidence shows that the human rights of the poorest and most vulnerable are especially at risk in such contexts.

A major issue with the development of new technologies by the UK government is a lack of transparency. Even the existence of the automated systems developed by DWP’s ‘Analysis & Intelligence Hub’ and ‘Risk Intelligent Service’ is almost unknown. The existence, purpose and basic functioning of these automated government systems remains a mystery in many cases, fueling misconceptions and anxiety about them. Advocacy organizations and media must rely on Freedom of Information requests to clarify the scope of automated systems used by government, but such requests often fail. Central and local government departments typically claim that revealing more information on automation projects would prejudice its commercial interests or those of the IT consultancies it contracts to, would breach intellectual property protections, or would allow individuals to ‘game the system.’

But it is clear that more public knowledge about the development and operation of automated systems is necessary. The segmentation of claimants into low, medium and high risk in the benefit system is already happening in contexts such as ‘Risk-based verification.’ Those flagged as ‘higher risk’ are the subject of more intense scrutiny and investigation, often without even being aware of this fact. The presumption of innocence is turned on its head when everyone applying for a benefit is screened for potential wrongdoing in a system of total surveillance. And in the absence of transparency about the existence and workings of automated systems, the rights to contest an adverse decision, and to seek a meaningful remedy, are illusory.

There is nothing inherent in Artificial Intelligence and other technologies that enable automation that threatens human rights and the rule of law. The reality is that governments simply seek to operationalize their political preferences through technology; the outcomes may be good or bad. But without more transparency about the development and use of automated systems, it is impossible to make such an assessment. And by excluding citizens from decision-making in this area we may set the stage for a future based on an artificial democracy.

Transparency about the existence, purpose, and use of new technologies in government and participation of the public in these debates will go a long way toward demystifying technology and clarifying distributive impacts. New technologies certainly have great potential to do good. But more knowledge may also lead to more realism about the limits of technology. A machine learning system may be able to beat a human at chess, but it may be less adept at solving complicated social ills such as poverty.

The new institutions currently being set up by the UK government in the area of big data and AI focus heavily on ethics. While their establishment is certainly a positive development, we should not lose sight of the limits of an ethics frame. Ethical concepts such as fairness are without agreed upon definitions, unlike human rights which are law. Government use of automation, with its potential to severely restrict the rights of individuals, needs to be bound by the rule of law and not just an ethical code.

While the overall innovation agenda may point in the direction of light-touch regulation and ethics, the Special Rapporteur would argue for a strengthening of the existing legal framework and its enforcement by regulators such as the Information Commissioner’s Office. While the EU General Data Protection Regulation includes promising provisions related to automated decision-making and Data Protection Impact Assessments, it is worrying that the Data Protection Act 2018 creates a quite significant loophole to the GDPR for government data use and sharing in the context of the Framework for Data Processing by Government.

The Dismantling of the Broader Social Safety Net
Before describing the ways in which the overall social safety net is being systematically dismantled, it is important to acknowledge some of the positive developments of which I was informed by the Government. The latest budget introduced several positive changes to Universal Credit, including a welcome increase in work allowances, as a consequence of which an estimated 2.4 million households will be better off next year to the tune of £630. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that 200,000 people will move out of poverty as a result of this change. By the same token, such improvements will be partly offset by the continuing freeze on benefits combined with the effect of inflation. The government has also taken steps to prioritize important social care issues through the launch of the government’s first loneliness strategy and the appointment of a Minister for suicide prevention.

There are many ways in which the overall safety net has been reduced since 2010, but this section focuses specifically on the effects of the benefit freeze and cap, the reduction of legal aid, the reduced funding of local authorities, and resulting cuts in other specific services.

  1. Benefit reductions and limits

Significant reductions in the amount of and eligibility for important forms of support have undermined the capacity of benefits to loosen the grip of poverty.  Capping benefit amounts  to working-age households, limiting support to two children per family, reducing the Housing Benefit for under-occupied social housing, and reducing the value of a wide range of benefits, have all made it much harder for people to make ends meet.

While the Government has commendably sought to protect the pension entitlements of older people, especially by introducing in 2010 a ‘triple lock’ to ensure that annual pension levels rise in accordance with whichever is highest among the rate of inflation, average earnings, or 2.5%. This helped to reduce poverty among pensioners, although the recent picture is less positive.

But the triple lock contrasts dramatically with the freeze on benefit rates for working age people since 2016. Poor households typically spend a higher proportion of their income on consumer goods than wealthy households and already often struggle to put food on the table after bills are paid. Despite this, the Government froze benefit rates in 2016, thus enabling continuing inflation to systematically reduce the value of the benefits.  Poor families have thus had to do more with less as the prices of goods has gone up and the value of their income has declined. Households are expected to have to cope with a reduction of £4.4 billion in 2019/20 alone. This year, when the Chancellor could have used the windfall he received from the Office for Budget Responsibility to end the benefit freeze a year earlier than planned, he instead chose to change income tax thresholds in a way that will help those better off and will do nothing to move the needle on poverty.

            (ii) Legal aid
There have been dramatic reductions in the availability of legal aid in England and Wales since 2012 and these have overwhelmingly affected the poor and people with disabilities, many of whom cannot otherwise afford to challenge benefit denials or reductions and are thus effectively deprived of their human right to a remedy. The LASPO Act (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act) gutted the scope of cases that are handled, ratcheted up the level of means-tested eligibility criteria, and substituted telephonic for many previously face-to-face advice services.

(iii) Local authorities’ cuts
In 2010, the Government pledged to radically reform public services by cutting funding to local authorities in England. This has had tremendous implications for local authorities, which are obligated to balance their books and whose revenue raising powers are limited. According to the National Audit Office, local governments in England have seen a 49% real-terms reduction in Government funding from 2010-11 to 2017-18 alongside a rise in demand for key social services.

As a result, they have transferred a greater share of service costs to users who are often the least able to pay. They have cut spending on services by 19% and focused their spending on statutorily mandatory adult social care and child protection services. The leader of one city council told me local governments have cut preventative, proactive services and then had to cope with a rise in crisis intervention– which can in fact be much more costly than preventative services.

More than 500 children’s centers closed between 2010 and 2018, and between 2010 and 2016 more than 340 libraries closed and 8,000 library jobs were lost. Anyone can rely on publicservices like the library, but they are of particular significance to those living in poverty who may need to access a computer or a safe community space. I spoke with a group of young people from London who made it clear how valuable a community center is as a safe space in a crowded city where people are squeezed by an immensely challenging housing market, and where being stuck out on the street could lead to crime and gang life.

Local welfare funds, a vital resource for people on the brink of crisis, have been another casualty of austerity. Many local governments in England have closed or cut their Local Welfare Assistance Schemes, leaving vulnerable people and those facing emergencies without anywhere to turn. At least 28 authorities have shuttered their local welfare funds and councils reported reducing their related expenditures by 72.5% between 2013 and 2018. From 2015 to 2018, the proportion of destitute people who reported receiving in-kind help from local welfare funds dropped sharply by 28%. The collapse of this resource for people who face sudden hardship has apparently been of no concern to the government, which decentralized responsibility for the funds and does not collect any information on what has become of them.

Local governments are even struggling with the basic services they are statutorily obligated to provide. Northamptonshire County Council has twice this year issued a formal notice indicating that it was at risk of unlawfully spending more than the resources it has available. As a result there are concerns that hundreds of vulnerable children are at greater risk of harm due to rapidly deteriorating frontline child protection services. In March 2018 the National Audit Office criticized the lack of ongoing, coordinated monitoring of the impact of funding cuts on local authority services and raised the alarm that statutory services are at risk.

The government plans to update its funding methodology for local governments from 2020-21, and in December 2017 it launched a formal consultation on the matter — the Fair Funding Review. Many people with whom I spoke from local and central government expressed concern that this review could lead to even more negative policies affecting people living in poverty.

(iv) Cuts in other services
As I toured the country, I was told time and again about important public services being pared down, the loss of institutions that would have previously protected vulnerable people, social care services that are at a breaking point, and local government and devolved administrations stretched far too thin.

Cuts are being made without either measuring or accounting for their broader impact, such as increasing the need for crisis support and mental health services. People are being pushed toward much more expensive services that can’t turn them away, like accident and emergency rooms. Other parts of the government are now starting to feel the excessive resulting burden. And cuts that pare back the government’s ability to tackle poverty don’t even make economic sense. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has estimated that poverty is costing the UK £78 billion per year in measures to reduce or alleviate poverty—not counting the cost of benefits. £1 in every £5 spent on public services is making up for the way that poverty has damaged people’s lives.

The voluntary sector has done an admirable job of picking up the slack for those government functions that have been cut or de facto outsourced. One pastor told me that because the government has cut services to the bone, his church is providing meals paid for by church members. But that work is not an adequate substitute for the government’s obligations. Food banks cannot step in to do the government’s job, and teachers—who very well may be relying on food banks themselves—shouldn’t be responsible for ensuring their students have clean clothes and food to eat.

By emphasizing work as a panacea for poverty against all evidence and dismantling the community support, benefits, and public services on which so many rely, the government has created a highly combustible situation that will have dire consequences. As one city council leader told us, “If there is another recession, our capacity to react to it has been completely cut.” Government officials dismissed such concerns and claimed that Universal Credit would work equally well when a future recession brings high levels of unemployment.

Measuring and Monitoring Poverty
It became clear from my many meetings and encounters in the UK that people want to work, and are taking hard, low paying, and insecure jobs in order to put food on the table. They want to contribute to their society and communities, support their families, live in safe, affordable housing, and take control over their lives. A just and compassionate UK can ensure these people are able to escape the restrictions of poverty. But a social safety net is not just for people already in poverty. It is equally important for a very large number of people whose margin of error is small and for whom a single crisis can lead to disaster. Many of the people I heard from ended up struggling to overcome financial hardship because of a surprise health condition, a divorce, or a child’s disability. More and more working people are trapped in poverty by a rising tide of low pay, debt, and high living costs, and a majority of the UK population will use some form of benefits over an 18-year period. In other words, a majority of the British people have a personal stake in the welfare system functioning effectively.

To address poverty systematically and effectively it is essential to know its extent and character.  Yet the United Kingdom does not have an official measure of poverty. It produces four different measures of people who live on “below average income.” This allows it to pick and choose which numbers to use and to claim that “absolute poverty” is falling. Seen in context, however, other measures show that progress in reducing poverty has flat lined, child poverty is rising, and poverty is projected to rise in the coming years. The bipartisan Social Metrics Commission’s New Poverty Measure represents an attempt to create a single comprehensive measure of poverty, and these are the numbers I reference here unless otherwise noted. I would urge the Government to respond to the Commission and adopt its approach, which has received an impressive degree of cross-party support.

The government told me that there are 3.3 million more people in work than in 2010, that so called “absolute poverty” is falling, and that the social support system is working. An elected official added that there is no extreme poverty in the UK and nothing like the levels of destitution seen in other countries. But there is a striking and almost complete disconnect between what I heard from the government and what I consistently heard from many people directly, across the country.

People I spoke with told me they have to choose between eating and heating their homes, or eating and feeding their children. One person said, “I would rather feed my kids than pay my rent, but that could get us all kicked out.” Children are showing up at school with empty stomachs, and schools are collecting food on an ad hoc basis and sending it home because teachers know that their students will otherwise go hungry. Many families are living paycheck to paycheck. And 2.5 million people in the UK survive with incomes no more than 10% above the poverty line. They are thus just one crisis away from of falling into poverty through no fault of their own.

In Jaywick, Erin described how she and her husband used to work full time and had a savings account, but one crisis changed her life. “I needed full time care, and my husband had to leave his job,” she said. “Suddenly we were living on disability. Then our landlord gave us eight weeks to vacate the apartment. We discovered that no one will let you view a house when you’re on disability benefits…. I do not know where I’ll be putting my child to bed soon. Should he be made homeless?”

Cuts to social support, preventative services, and local councils mean that when people need help, there are fewer resources to support them, causing them to rely on charities and crisis services. One front line worker told me that they are referring people to food banks because “people have exhausted the possibility of borrowing from their families and friends, defaulted on their loans, and have nowhere else to go.”

I also heard story after story from people who considered and even attempted suicide, and spoke with multiple organizations that have instituted suicide prevention training for frontline staff in recent years. One person said, “The cumulative impact of successive cuts has been devastating. People are coming to me because they are suicidal, they have turned to sex work, they can’t live with themselves.”

These aren’t just anecdotes. They are reflected in the numbers. In England, homelessness is up 60% since 2010, rough sleeping is up 134%. There are 1.2 million people on the social housing waiting list, but less than 6,000 homes were built last year. Food bank use is up almost four-fold since 2012, and there are now about 2,000 food banks in the UK, up from just 29 at the height of the financial crisis. Not only does the government not measure food poverty, but a Minister dismissed the significance of foodbank use as being only occasional and noted that foodbanks exist in many other western countries. The clear implication was that their rapid growth in the UK should not be seen as cause for concern, let alone for government action.

Employment as the Cure-All for Poverty
The government says work is the solution to poverty and points to record employment rates as evidence that the country is going in the right direction. But being in employment does not magically overcome poverty. In-work poverty is increasingly common and almost 60% of those in poverty in the UK are in families where someone works. There are 2.8 million people living in poverty in families where all adults work full time. Families with two parents working full time at the national minimum wage are still 11% short of the income needed to raise a child. One person told me “I know people who are working five jobs to make the national minimum wage, which isn’t a living wage.”

Low wages, insecure jobs, and zero hour contracts mean that even at record unemployment there are still 14 million people in poverty. Government Ministers emphasized that only 3% of the workforce on zero hours contracts, with no benefits or security. But that amounts to almost one million workers, and a great many of them will be among the most vulnerable members of society. And the Equalities and Human Rights Commission found that 10% of workers over 16 are in insecure employment. Jobs aren’t even a guarantee against people needing food banks. The Trussell Trust told me that one in six people referred to their food banks is in work. One pastor said “The majority of people using our food bank are in work…. Nurses and teachers are accessing food banks.”

The Hardest Hit
The costs of austerity have fallen disproportionately upon the poor, women, racial and ethnic minorities, children, single parents, and people with disabilities. The changes to taxes and benefits since 2010 have been highly regressive, and the policies have taken the highest toll on those least able to bear it. The government says everyone’s hard work has paid off, but according to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, while the bottom 20% of earners will have lost on average 10% of their income by 2021/22 as a result of these changes, top earners have actually come out ahead. According to 2017 research by the Runnymede Trust and Women’s Budget Group, as a result of changes to taxes, benefits, and public spending from 2010 through 2020, Black and Asian households in the lowest fifth of incomes will experience largest average drop in living standards, about 20%.

(i) Women
Women are particularly affected by poverty. Reductions in social care services translate to an increased burden on primary caregivers who are disproportionately women. Under Universal Credit, single payments to an entire household may entrench problematic and often gendered dynamics within a couple, including by giving control of the payments to a financially or physically abusive partner. Changes to the support for single parents also disproportionately affect women, who make up about 90% of single parents, and as of August of this year, two-thirds of Universal Credit recipients who had their benefits capped were single parents. Single pensioners are also driving the uptick in pensioner poverty, and are significantly more likely to be women.

(ii) Children
Many of the recent changes to social support in the UK have a disparate impact on children, including the deeply problematic two child policy, the outrageous rape exception, and the benefits cap. The Equality and Human Rights Commission forecasts that another 1.5 million more children will fall into poverty between 2010 and 2021/22 as a result of the changes to benefits and taxes, a 10% increase from 31% to 41%. Sanctions against parents can have unintended consequences on their children. According to the Social Metrics Commission, almost a third of children in the UK live in poverty. After years of progress, child poverty is rising again, and expected to continue increasing sharply in the coming years. According to Child Poverty Action Group, the child benefit will have lost 23% of its real value between 2010 and 2020, due to sub-inflationary uprating and the current freeze. And low paid jobs and stagnant wages have a direct effect on children, with families where two adults earn the minimum wage still falling short of the adequate income needed to raise a child. Because of changes to benefits and taxes, the Equality and Human Rights Commission projects the poverty rate for children in single parent households to jump to a shocking 62% by 2021/22.

(iii) People with disabilities
Nearly half of those in poverty, 6.9 million people, are from families in which someone has a disability. People with disabilities are more likely to be in poverty, and are more likely to be unemployed, in insecure employment, or economically inactive. They have also been some of the hardest hit from austerity measures. As a result of changes to benefits and taxes since 2010, some families with disabilities are projected to lose £11,000 on average by 2021/22, more than 30% of their annual net income. People with disabilities told me again and again about benefits assessments that were superficial and dismissive, and that led to findings that contradicted the advice of their doctor.

(iv) Pensioners
Despite the protections offered by the triple lock, pensioner poverty has begun to rise after decades of decline. Between 2012/13 and 2016/17, the number of pensioners living in poverty rose by 300,000. As was made clear to me in a number of submissions and through powerful personal testimony, a group of women born in the 1950s have been particularly impacted by an abrupt and poorly phased in change in the state pension age from 60 to 66. The impact of the changes to pensionable age is such as to severely penalize those who happen to be on the cusp of retirement and who had well-founded expectations of entering the next phase of their lives, rather than being plunged back into a workforce for which many of them were ill-prepared and to which they could not reasonably have been expected to adjust with no notice.

(v) Asylum seekers and migrants
Destitution is built into the asylum system. Asylum seekers are banned from working and limited to a derisory level of support that guarantees they will live in poverty. The government promotes work as the solution to poverty, yet refuses to allow this particular group to work. While asylum seekers receive some basic supports such as housing, they are left to make do with an inadequate, poverty-level income of around £5 a day. For those who have no recourse to public funds as a result of their immigration status, the situation can be particularly difficult; such individuals face an increased risk of exploitation and enjoy restricted access to educational opportunities.

(vi) Rural poverty
Despite the idyllic traditional image of the English countryside, poverty in rural areas is particularly harsh. Rural dwellers are particularly impacted by cuts to transportation and public services, are at a higher risk of loneliness and isolation, and often face higher fuel costs.

An organization working on rural poverty that I met with in Bristol told me, “If you’re poor in the countryside it’s twice as bad, because you don’t have access to services. People can’t afford the bus and the bus doesn’t go where you need it to anyways.” Without adequate access to transportation, people can’t get to work even when they are able to get a job. One person told me that it was easier for her to go to find a job by going to another city and staying with friends there than it would have been to find a job at home without public transportation.

And with the government’s new dependence on digital-by-default benefits applications, lack of broadband internet or access to libraries are particularly painful. Government officials assured me that anyone can walk off the street and get support to make an online claim for benefits, but that’s simply not the case for people living outside major cities.

Devolved Administrations
Devolved administrations have tried to mitigate the worst impacts of austerity, despite experiencing significant reductions in block grant funding and constitutional limits on their ability to raise revenue. Scotland and Northern Ireland each report spending about £125 million per year to protect people from the worst impacts of austerity. And unlike England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales have continued to provide access to welfare funds for emergency hardships. 

But mitigation comes at a price and is not sustainable. The Scottish government has urged the UK to put an end to the benefit freeze and the two child limit on certain benefits, and told me that they have reached the limit of what they can afford to mitigate, because every pound spent on off-setting cuts means taking away from other vital services. Northern Ireland’s mitigation package runs out in 2020, leaving vulnerable people facing a “cliff edge scenario.” But more broadly, it is outrageous that devolved administrations need to spend resources to shield people from government policies.

Scotland
Scotland, despite having the lowest poverty rates in the United Kingdom, has the lowest life expectancy and the highest suicide rate in Great Britain. I met with children in Glasgow’s North East, where, according to one local councillor, 48% of people are out of work, life expectancy is six years lower than the national average, about half of families are single-parent households, and about a third of households lack an internet connection.
 
However, Scotland has recently put in place schemes for addressing poverty, including its Fairer Scotland Action Plan and Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan. It has also used newly devolved powers to establish a promising social security system guided by the principles of dignity and social security as a human right, and co-designed on the basis of evidence. The system eschews sanctions entirely and, in contrast to Universal Credit, is decidedly not digital by default. Rather, the stated goal it to make benefits equally accessible however people want to access them.

It is too soon to say if these ambitious steps—and Scotland’s new powers of taxation—will make a difference for poverty, health outcomes, and life expectancy in Scotland. However, it is clear to me that there is still a real accountability gap which should be addressed. The absence of a legal remedy or a more robust reference to international standards in the Social Security (Scotland) Act is significant and should be addressed. I will be following closely the forthcoming recommendations from the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights.

Civil society groups also raised concerns about a general lack of awareness of local welfare funds for people in crisis and the considerable variation in how local authorities process applications for these emergency grants; in Glasgow only 3% of local welfare fund applications were decided in a day, whereas other councils managed to decide these claims within a day 99% of the time.

Wales
Wales faces the highest relative poverty rate in the United Kingdom, with almost one in four people living in relative income poverty. Like the rest of the United Kingdom, employment has not proven to be an automatic route out of poverty in Wales. In-work poverty has grown over the last decade, despite considerable improvement in the employment rate. Twenty-five percent of  jobs pay below the minimum wage, and low-paid, part-time or insecure jobs are often disproportionately taken up by women, due to difficulties in balancing work and caring responsibilities.

Faced with these challenges, the Welsh Government has determinedly shifted its focus to increasing economic prosperity and employment as the gateway to poverty reduction. A poverty-specific action plan and the post of the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty were scrapped in 2017, in favour of adopting a “whole Government” approach to poverty reduction. The new Prosperity for All Strategy, however, has removed the strategic focus on and the Ministerial responsibility for poverty reduction, and lacks clear performance targets and indicators to measure progress and impact.

In the absence of devolved power over social security benefits, the Welsh Government’s capacity to directly mitigate the reduction in benefits is limited, thereby shifting the burden to low-income households. There is a wide consensus among stakeholders that the benefit changes are one of the structural causes behind the increase in poverty, rough sleeping, and homelessness in Wales. Parliamentarians and civil society voiced serious concerns that Universal Credit may exacerbate the problem, particularly in light of the Welsh Government’s inability to introduce flexibilities in its administration, unlike its Scottish counterpart.

Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, the lack of a government forecloses the possibility of any major efforts to tackle poverty and results in an accountability vacuum. Like Scotland, Northern Ireland has taken steps to mitigate some of the worst effects of austerity measures, and is taking a different and seemingly more humane approach to certain aspects of Universal Credit. But a £500 million mitigation package is set to run out in 2020, and its expiration could have dire consequences for people living in poverty. According to the government, rates of long term unemployment are more than twice those of the UK as a whole.

In Belfast, I was struck by the extent to which communities in the city are still segregated by physical barriers and I was concerned to learn about persistent inequalities along religious lines. A startling 69% of those long-term unemployed are Catholic, compared with 31% Protestant as of 2016. People in Belfast told me that the government was not building sufficient social housing in predominantly Catholic areas, and Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission found that Catholics experience longest wait times for social housing among all religious groups.

Conclusion
The experience of the United Kingdom, especially since 2010, underscores the conclusion that poverty is a political choice. Austerity could easily have spared the poor, if the political will had existed to do so. Resources were available to the Treasury at the last budget that could have transformed the situation of millions of people living in poverty, but the political choice was made to fund tax cuts for the wealthy instead.

It was a British philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, who memorably claimed that without a social contract, life outside society would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The risk is that if current policies do not change, this is the direction in which low-income earners and the poor are headed. Loneliness rates have soared in recent years and life expectancy rates have stalled in the United Kingdom, with the latest statistics showing a sharp drop in the annual improvement that has been experienced every year since the records began, and an actual drop for certain groups.

The compassion and mutual concern that has long been part of the British tradition has been outsourced. At the same time many of the public places and institutions that previously brought communities together, such as libraries, community and recreation centers, and public parks, have been steadily dismantled or undermined. In its fiscal analyses, the Treasury and the Government constantly repeat the refrain that fiscal policy must “avoid burdening the next generation.” The message is that the debt burden must be paid off now. The problem is that the next generation’s prospects are already being grievously undermined by the systematic dismantling of social protection policies since 2010.

The negotiations surrounding Brexit present an opportunity to take stock of the current situation and reimagine what this country should represent and how it protects its people. The legislative recognition of social rights should be a central part of that reimagining. And social inclusion, rather than increasing marginalization of the working poor and those unable to work, should be the guiding principle of social policy.

The UK should introduce a single measure of poverty and measure food security.

The government should initiate an expert assessment of the cumulative impact of tax and spending decisions since 2010 and prioritize the reversal of particularly regressive measures, including the benefit freeze, the two-child limit, the benefit cap, and the reduction of the housing benefit for under-occupied social rented housing.

It should ensure local governments have the funds needed to tackle poverty at the community level, and take varying needs and tax bases into account in the ongoing Fair Funding Review.

The Department of Work and Pensions should conduct an independent review of the effectiveness of reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012, and should immediately instruct its staff to explore more constructive and less punitive approaches to encouraging compliance.

The five week delay in receiving benefits under Universal Credit should be eliminated, separate payments should be made to different household members, and weekly or fortnightly payments should be facilitated.

Transport, especially in rural areas, should be considered an essential service, equivalent to water and electricity, and the government should regulate the sector to the extent necessary to ensure that people living in rural areas are adequately served. Abandoning people to the private market in relation to a service that affects every dimension of their basic well-being is incompatible with human rights requirements.

As the country moves toward Brexit, the Government should adopt policies designed to ensure that the brunt of the resulting economic burden is not borne by its most vulnerable citizens.

 

 Posted by at 15:33
Nov 152018
 

 

Utterly disgraceful’ Public Health England refuses to warn councils of ESA suicide risk

The government’s public health agency has refused to warn local NHS and council bodies that claimants of out-of-work disability benefits are at a hugely-increased risk of attempting to take their own lives.

Last week, Public Health England (PHE) published the latest update of its Suicide Prevention Profile (SPP), which includes detailed data that helps public bodies draw up their own local suicide prevention plans.

The aim of the profile is to develop “an intelligence driven approach to suicide prevention” by providing figures that show the prevalence of suicide among different age groups and in different areas, and how different risk factors vary across those areas.

PHE says its SPP aims to support local areas in developing and monitoring their suicide prevention action plans, helping them to “understand suicide and the risk and service-related factors that may have a causal relationship”.

The profile includes 25 risk factors for suicide, including the prevalence of depression, alcohol-related hospital admissions and how many people live alone, and shows how these indicators vary in every county and unitary authority area in England.

This allows the experts who draw up local suicide prevention plans to see which risk factors are particularly high in their area, so they can pay attention to them and try to produce strategies to prevent people dying through suicide.

But PHE has ignored the proportion of the population in local areas that claims employment and support allowance (ESA) as one of those risk factors, even though it is aware of NHS figures that show nearly half of ESA claimants have attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey showed in September 2016 that more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle Campaign, said PHE’s failure was “utterly disgraceful” and “beyond belief”.

He said this “negligence” made PHE “complicit” in the continuing suicides among sick and disabled people that were being caused by the government’s welfare reforms, and the further “catastrophic harm” caused to those who do not take their own lives.

Dr Jay Watts, the activist and consultant clinical psychologist who first highlighted the figures, said there was “clear and undeniable evidence of the exceptionally high rate of attempted suicide by ESA claimants from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, the most comprehensive and widely respected measure of the nation’s mental health.

This data has been triangulated by other evidences including that from senior health professionals, the police, activist groups and those volunteering on national suicide helplines, all of which concur that the benefits system triggers risk of death by suicide.

Despite this, Public Health England has chosen to omit this from their new guidance, drawing the focus of local suicide prevention strategies away from an extremely high-risk group where help and care could make a real difference in mitigating risk.”

She added: “It is interesting that the ‘there are always multiple factors’ arguments is used to bat off mentioning evidence where the current government is implicated, yet somehow this rhetoric doesn’t get applied to other more politically neutral factors such as gender and loneliness.

Given this peculiarity, it is difficult to read Public Health England’s decision to omit the mentioning of ESA claimants as anything but an indefensible politically motivated decision.”

PHE admitted that it had been aware of the NHS Digital ESA statistics.

But a PHE spokeswoman said that, because the 43 per cent figure was a measure of how many ESA claimants had attempted suicide during their lifetime, the timing of suicide attempts and claiming ESA “may not necessarily have occurred at the same time, which has to be considered when looking at the data”.

She also appeared to claim that the reason the national ESA figures could not be included in the profile was because they were based on too small a sample, so producing local figures for the SPP could potentially identify individuals.

This appeared to be a clear and basic misunderstanding of the statistics that would be used in the profile, as Department for Work and Pensions figures show there are many hundreds, and usually thousands, of ESA claimants in each local authority area in England.

And if PHE included ESA as a risk factor in its SPP, it would only produce figures showing the proportion of the local working-age population who claimed ESA, posing absolutely no risk of identifying any individual.

The PHE spokeswoman refused to reconsider her response, despite being asked to explain the apparent flaws and inconsistencies in her statement*.

She also claimed that PHE made clear in its local suicide prevention planning guidance that local areas should “also look at other sources to inform their prevention plans”.

But this planning guidance makes no mention of the ESA figures or any other benefits in the relevant section (section 3) or throughout the document.

Lily Makurah, national public mental health lead at PHE, said: “There are many reasons that can sadly drive someone to take their life by suicide.

Our data helps to provide the basis for local authorities and partners to develop suicide prevention plans that best meet the needs of their communities.”

But McArdle said: “Judging from their reaction, it would appear that PHE have not properly examined the empirical evidence before us because had they done so it would be impossible for a reasonable person to reach the conclusion that they have.”

The Department of Health has repeatedly refused to explain why it fails to mention the figures or to highlight ESA claimants as a high-risk group in its own suicide prevention strategy for England.

Jackie Doyle-Price, the new “suicide prevention” minister, has refused to pledge to take the simple steps of highlighting that ESA claimants are a high-risk group in that strategy, and of alerting local agencies to the figures.

And this week her department failed to comment on PHE’s failure to mention the figures in its SPP.

The PHE spokeswoman did make it clear, though, that Doyle-Price had not been asked to approve the latest list of risk factors.

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

*The PHE spokeswoman also admitted that figures showing the proportion of ESA claimants with mental health conditions in the local working-age populations in areas across England were included in PHE’s mental health and wellbeing joint strategic needs assessment, which is designed to “help planners understand needs within the local population and assess local services”. But she failed to explain why similar figures for all ESA claimants in an area could not therefore be used in the Suicide Prevention Profile

15 November 2018

 

 

DWP ‘plans to move more benefits onto troubled universal credit IT platform’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been planning for years to move more benefits onto the hugely-troubled IT platform that hosts universal credit, documents released through freedom of information requests appear to show.

DWP deposited a substantial number of internal documents relating to universal credit in the House of Commons library this month, following the latest in a series of freedom of information requests by campaigner John Slater.

The documents include a series of “programme decision logs”, providing details of decisions taken between 2015 and 2017 by the universal credit programme board, which reviews progress on implementing the system and whose members are mostly senior DWP civil servants.

Universal credit was designed to incorporate six income-related benefits into one, including income-related employment and support allowance (ESA), housing benefit and income support.

But the IT system that supports universal credit claims – as well as the application of sanctions when they breach strict conditions and the online journal that claimants must keep updated – has been repeatedly criticised for being flawed and error-ridden, while critics have warned that the online system is not accessible for many disabled people.

The department is already preparing to transfer millions of people on existing income-related benefits onto universal credit by 2023, with the public accounts committee warning last month that delivery of universal credit was “causing unacceptable hardship and difficulties for many of the claimants it was designed to help” and of “a culture of indifference” within the department to those problems.

Now it appears that DWP is planning to load hundreds of thousands more claimants onto the IT system that supports universal credit, although it is not clear when it intends to begin this process.

The decision logs unearthed by Slater include repeated references to contributory benefits – out-of-work benefits paid to those who have built up sufficient national insurance contributions, such as the contributory form of ESA.

In January 2017, for example, the universal credit programme board “discussed the short, medium and long term approach to Contributory Benefits in UC, progress to date and next steps”.

It also “noted progress made on the development of the contributory benefit strategic business case”.

And it warned that “some senior input might be necessary to drive the business case forward”.

In May 2016, the programme board had “noted progress on Contributory Benefits design proposal for UC Full Service”, while the previous year the board had stated the need to “engage Ministers on the long term plans for contributory benefits and seek a decision by Spring 2016 in order that we can plan any legislative and policy changes”.

But despite these and many other references to contributory benefits by the universal credit programme board, a DWP spokeswoman said: “DWP has no plans to merge contributory benefits into Universal Credit. They will continue to be claimed separately.”

When asked why there were so many mentions of contributory benefits by the programme board and to confirm that the department planned to migrate them onto the universal credit IT platform, she refused to comment further.

Slater, himself a programme manager, said that migrating contributory benefits onto the universal credit IT platform “would appear to place all the DWP eggs into a single basket”.

He said: “Given the problems the UC IT currently experiences (outages, running slow etc), I can’t see it going well if contributory benefits are added to the workload.” 

Slater is also concerned that DWP may intend eventually to move disability benefits such as personal independence payment and disability living allowance onto the IT platform developed for universal credit.

He said the potential problems this could cause were “huge”, and he added: “We’re getting a taste of this already under universal credit, with people claiming income-related ESA or just not having the basic IT skills to cope with the UC IT system being sanctioned on a regular basis, which is leaving them destitute.”

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit is “rotten to the core” with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.

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

And last week, Disability News Service reported how a man with learning difficulties died a month after attempting to take his own life, following a move onto the “chaotic” universal credit system that left him hundreds of pounds in debt.

15 November 2018

 

 

UN expert tells of disabled people’s ‘horrendous’ evidence on poverty

The UN expert investigating the government’s record on eradicating poverty has described how he has heard “pretty horrendous” evidence from disabled people while conducting a 12-day factfinding visit to the UK.

Professor Philip Alston, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, also told Disability News Service (DNS) that the government had not made the progress he would have expected in securing “real equality” for disabled people.

And he made it clear, after speaking at an event in London on Tuesday evening, that the impact of universal credit on the poverty experienced by disabled people and other groups would play an important part in his report.

He said: “I don’t think I could avoid it as a big issue.”

He said that disabled people had made up a “significant proportion” of the community and other groups he had met, and those he had met had told him “stories which are pretty troubling to hear.

They paint a picture of a system which doesn’t respond to their particular challenges and problems in the way that it should.”

He said that that did not surprise him on one level because disabled people faced discrimination all over the world.

But he added: “On the other hand there is a formal commitment [in the UK, through the Equality Act] to treat them with full respect and care.

One would have hoped there would have been more progress in terms of real equality for people with disabilities.”

Alston had made it clear earlier that, because of the strict rules of the UN process he was undertaking, he could not yet speak “in a very direct way” about his findings.

In response to a question from DNS during the event, he told the audience that he had met many disabled people during his visit who had described their experiences of poverty, particularly in relation to universal credit and the disability benefit assessment process.

He said: “I have to say that I have heard some pretty horrendous stories.”

He added: “One of the issues that I’m conscious of, and it’s an easy reply if government wants to make it, is that of course my audience is self-selecting.

In other words, people who feel that the system is working really well, who have had a good deal, who really love their work coach, are not going to come along to a meeting with me nor send me a letter saying the system is great, mate.

So I naturally tend to get people who are deeply discontented but it has to be said that I have had probably more than my expected share of people with disabilities who have had pretty awful experiences.”

He also told the meeting that the UK government had delivered a “relatively dismissive” response to last year’s report by the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, in which the committee had told the government to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights. 

But Alston also told the event – organised by the UK human rights consortium Just Fair and the Human Rights Lawyers Association – that he had been told earlier that day by the government that there had been no austerity.

Although he later declined to identify to DNS which minister or civil servant had made the comment, he had just described having meetings that day with work and pensions secretary Esther McVey (who resigned from the cabinet this morning), as well as an unnamed work and pensions minister and a junior Treasury minister.

He said: “I was told today that there isn’t austerity. That government expenditure in almost all areas has gone up steadily in the last 10 years.

So I asked what Philip Hammond and Theresa May were talking about [when they talk about an end to austerity]. I didn’t get a particularly good answer to that.”

Alston also said that he had received “very surprising” answers from the government when he had asked about the use of foodbanks, although he declined to expand on what ministers told him.

He said: “The impact of these policies on communities is going to be an important element in my final report.”

He was asked by an audience member whether he had been examining whether government austerity measures, including benefit sanctions, might amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Alston said there were problems with the sanctions statistics that the Department for Work and Pensions places on its website, with “a lot of data that is not made available”.

He added: “The challenge to me is to be able to describe accurately what is really going on, but I think I will be able to do that.

Whether I would categorise it as cruel and inhuman, I will see how I feel on Thursday night when I’m finishing writing my statement.

There is a whole book that has that title, which I’ve read and I am well aware that many of the people who have experienced these sort of sanctions would categorise them in that way.”

Alston told the meeting that although he had “no power” and could not order the UK government to take any action, he hoped his report would be strong enough to “resonate with people” so that it would “have legs” and would “continue to be discussed”.

He said he knew the UK government would not welcome his report and would not agree to implement it, but he hoped to be able to “shine a light on some issues that could do with added attention”.

He also pointed to the role that tabloid newspapers and others – including those owned by his fellow Australian Rupert Murdoch (now a US citizen) – had played in stigmatising and distorting human rights “so we all know that human rights are only for drug dealers and terrorists”.

He said this had “highlighted for many of us in the human rights community the need to start rehabilitating the notion of human rights”, and to emphasise that human rights “are for the average person and not just for the particularly vulnerable groups”.

He said: “If people aren’t getting enough food to eat I think there should be reasonable outrage and I think it would be useful to see that from a rights perspective, but I think that’s going to take time.

I think that’s what many of us in the field need to start working on.”

Alston also said that the international system of human rights provided a way to hold governments accountable for their actions.

He said: “What has to be recognised is that being in poverty is a grave threat to your civil and political rights.

Most of the people [in the world] who are tortured, most of the people who are killed, most of the people who are abused in prisons or elsewhere are poor. They are abused in part because they are poor.

They are easy victims, they don’t have recourse, they don’t have people to defend them, they can’t afford lawyers.

Attacking the poor is easy, and they as a result suffer highly disproportionately in terms of their civil and political rights.”

Alston and his team carried out months of detailed research in advance of their 12-day visit, which saw them visit Belfast, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Essex, Glasgow, Jaywick, London, and Newcastle.

He is set to issue a preliminary 10-page statement tomorrow (Friday) before publishing his final report in June.

15 October 2018

 

 

Regulator sets out ideas for better assisted rail travel

The rail regulator has revealed a series of draft measures designed to force the industry to improve the assistance it provides to disabled passengers.

Many of the proposals suggested by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) yesterday (Wednesday) aim to address key concerns that have been highlighted publicly by disabled campaigners.

They include measures to make it less likely that users of mobility scooters will be prevented from boarding trains, improvements to information on whether on-board accessible toilets are out-of-order, better training for staff – with disabled people involved in its delivery – and measures aimed at ensuring that more rail replacement services are wheelchair-accessible.

There is also the possibility of a significant reduction in the standard notice required from disabled passengers seeking to book assistance before they travel, which could be reduced to two hours from the 24 hours notice often required, although other options are also included.

ORR says it wants all rail operators to introduce schemes offering compensation to passengers if they fail to receive the assistance they booked in advance.

And it says it wants the industry to introduce text relay services that would allow passengers with hearing or speech impairments to book assistance using text-to speech translation services.

The ORR consultation will eventually lead to the first changes to the rules governing how Network Rail and train operating companies ensure their services are accessible to disabled people – through their Disabled People’s Protection Policies (DPPPs) – since 2009.

The DPPPs are important because every train and station operator must have one and they have a legal obligation to comply with them.

Other suggested ORR changes include improving and standardising information on assistance and making improvements to the process of booking that assistance.

There are also plans to introduce a formal procedure for communication between staff at different stations to ensure that passengers who have asked for help “consistently receive assistance to alight the train”.

ORR also wants to ensure that wheelchair-users are told when buying a first-class ticket if there are no spaces for wheelchair-users in the first-class carriage.

The suggested changes have come following months of consultations with disabled people’s organisations, passenger bodies and the rail industry.

Few disabled campaigners have yet had a chance to read the 116-page report, but initial reactions suggest many of the measures will be welcomed, although further improvements to the document will be needed.

Doug Paulley, who has raised publicly at least two of the key issues raised by the report, said his initial impression was that the report included some positive recommendations, but that there would need to be improvements through the consultation process.

He particularly highlighted the section on rail replacement services, an issue he has raised, and said the ORR needed to strengthen the new guidance in that area.

He said DPPPs were “important”, and he added: “It’s the key document that sets out in detail what each train operating company is legally required to do to make its services accessible for disabled people.”

The crossbench disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, who has repeatedly highlighted cases of discrimination against herself and other disabled passengers on public transport – and last month suggested she would write to the Department for Transport every time she heard of a disabled person having an access problem on a train – said she would welcome anything that made rail transport easier for disabled people.

She said: “The number of complaints I am receiving is unacceptable.”

She said she would send ORR a full response to its consultation.

Stephen Brookes, the government’s rail sector champion and an ambassador for Disability Rights UK, welcomed the ORR report.

He said: “I am particularly pleased to see that the consultation will examine new arrangements to strengthen communication between stations and measures to introduce greater accountability for assistance provision.

This all too frequent failure has been a regular criticism shared with me by disabled people in my work.”

He said he also welcomed the plan to produce “a more concise passenger leaflet focused on what to expect before travelling, at the station, on the train and if things go wrong.

The publicity currently available is not consistent and nor is the on-the-ground implementation, so any simplification has to be a real and significant win.”

John Larkinson, ORR’s chief executive, says in the report: “We know from our previous research and consultation that more needs to be done: to raise awareness of what assistance is available and how to get it; to improve the reliability of this service; and to provide staff with the information, skills and confidence to give the best customer service possible – including to those with hidden disabilities.

We are encouraged by the good practice we have found, but we have been clear with train operators and Network Rail that they must consider what more they can do in these areas.”

ORR will consider the responses to its consultation – which ends on 18 January – and then publish its final revised guidance in spring 2019.

15 November 2018

 

 

Petition raising fears over ‘freedom deprivation bill’ tops 100,000 signatures

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition demanding the government makes major changes to a bill that campaigners say would make it easier for many disabled people to be deprived of their freedom.

The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA) only launched the petition at the end of last month, but within about two weeks 100,000 people had added their names.

That petition and other campaigning and lobbying efforts appear to have had some impact, with ministers due to announce some amendments to the mental capacity (amendment) bill today (Thursday), although it is unlikely that they will meet all ROFA’s demands.

ROFA’s petition raises grave concerns about the bill – which is set for its report stage in the House of Lords on Wednesday (21 November) – and the powers it will grant care home managers, local authorities and NHS organisations.

The bill will affect an estimated 300,000 people in England and Wales with impairments including dementia, learning difficulties and brain injuries.

It will introduce a new system, Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), to replace the crisis-ridden Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS), for service-users who are said to need to be deprived of their liberty as part of their care but are considered to lack the mental capacity to consent to those arrangements.

The bill is based on recommendations by the Law Commission but critics say it is “significantly different” from the commission’s own draft bill and omits most of its most progressive elements.

The petition warns that the bill as it stands “will make it easier to deprive someone of their liberty if they are judged unable to make decisions for themselves” and could mean disabled people being “forced to live in care homes because it’s cheaper and easier for the local council even though it’s not what they want or need”.

ROFA – backed by members including People First (Self Advocacy), Inclusion London, and the consultancy Changing Perspectives – believes the bill will significantly weaken protections.

Decisions on deprivation of liberty are currently taken with the help of an independent assessment that “considers the opinions and wishes of the person and makes sure the care that is provided is what the person needs”, says ROFA.

But the petition says the bill would scrap most of these independent assessments and would often give decision-making power instead to care home managers, “who have an interest in keeping people in their care homes”.

An independent assessor will only be asked to carry out a review if the service-user is believed to be objecting to the deprivation of their liberty, and it will be up to the care home manager to decide if that person is objecting.

Similar powers would be given to managers in local authorities, hospitals or NHS clinical commissioning groups when considering LPS for disabled people in other care settings.

Andrew Lee, director of policy and campaigns for People First, said he hoped the number of people responding to the petition would raise awareness with the general public and “put pressure on the government and MPs to change and improve the bill”.

Among his key concerns with the bill are the lack of an automatic right to independent advocacy; the conflict of interest created by a care home manager having responsibility for arranging assessments, as it would “give them permission to put their financial gain over someone’s wishes to live independently”; and the lack of a duty to promote liberty.

He also said there was “a lack of a right to accessible information” about the LPS process, which “is vital if a person is going to be a part of what is happening”.

Lee said the bill had been “rushed through and rather than look at any of the main issues with the Mental Capacity Act and get it right, rights and safeguards have been stripped away. 

Real research needs to be done around the definition of deprivation of liberty, when it is applied and what it covers. 

For now, this bill has just made it easier for people to be deprived of their liberty by taking away their rights.”

He said the bill “gives people who already have power, more power over the decisions in a person’s life”, and he warned that if it was passed in its current state it would “send the rights of disabled people back around 40 years”.

He said he feared a worst case scenario with nothing to stop a care home manager “locking up a person for the rest of their lives, just through the simple fact that they are the ones making the decisions about whether a person has any say about where they live, whether a person has an assessment and whether they get an advocate”.

He added: “For me, this law will lead to further institutionalisation of people with learning difficulties and it is unacceptable that in this day in age, after fighting so hard to be treated as equal under the law, that this bill can come along and treat us like objects.”

Simone Aspis, director of Changing Perspectives, said the response to the petition was “fabulous” in such a short period of time.

She said the legislation “starts from the wrong place” and needed to begin instead with “the promotion of people’s liberty” rather than its current starting-point of creating a legal framework to allow care homes and local authorities to deprive someone of their freedom.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said the bill would “reform a broken system and reduce the number of vulnerable people waiting for access to essential protections by simplifying the process and making it less burdensome.

We agree safeguards must be protected. That is why the proposed model has all authorisations decided by a responsible body, and independent oversight from approved mental capacity professionals.

We are also considering changes to strengthen safeguards, such as the explicit exclusion of care home staff from conducting assessments.”

15 November 2018

 

 

Care charges are driving disabled people into debt, says report

Charging disabled people for their care and support is driving many of them into debt and forcing them to cut their spending on food or heating, according to new research by a network of disabled people’s organisations and their allies.

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

Nearly half (43 per cent) had had to cut back on their spending on food to pay for care.

And two-fifths of respondents (40 per cent) said they had had to cut back on heating costs to pay for care and support.

The study concludes that charging for the support disabled people need to go about their daily lives is “unfair, counterproductive and undermines the primary purpose of the care and support system”.

The effect of charging, it says, is often to “drive disabled people into care poverty, and to create confusion, stress and complexity in an already overly burdened bureaucratic system” through what is effectively “an unhelpful and unnecessary tax on disability and old age”.

The study analysed the results of an online survey of more than 600 disabled people who had received a community care assessment, and freedom of information responses from all 152 English local authorities with social care responsibilities.

All but one of the local authorities – Hammersmith and Fulham – impose charges on some of their service-users.

The study heard from one disabled person who benefited from Hammersmith and Fulham’s no-charging policy, who said: “Social care is a human right. It’s an essential service like education or the NHS.

It’s not ethical to charge for it, in effect it’s an extra tax.”

Charging for care, says the study, only raises “modest” sums of money – about 12 per cent of spending on care and support – but has a “profound impact on the individual”, with an average charge per year of more than £2,000 (£2,243).

Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who chairs ILSG, said: “Support provided under the Care Act is meant to improve the wellbeing and independence of disabled people.

By charging many for that support, the system is making a mockery of the spirit of the legislation and causing worry, stress and poverty.

Charging raises a relatively small sum of money which is pushing up costs elsewhere.

The financial impact of personal care neglect such as pressure sores, kidney infections or falls, as well as stress related illnesses, means finding extra resources for the NHS.”

The group called on the government to scrap all charges.

But if it refused to do that, ILSG said, it should introduce other measures to “mitigate” against the “worst effects” of charging.

These should include monitoring the number of people who decline or decide to stop receiving council-funded support after a charge is imposed or increased.

Only 17 of the 152 councils said they knew how many people had declined or abandoned social care packages they had been assessed as needing once they were told how much they would have to pay.

All councils should also carry out an equality impact assessment of their charging policies, said the group.

And it said that all councils should introduce an “early warning” system to identify people getting into charges-related debt, introduce a “breathing space” before any debt collection action is taken, and provide access to support to manage such debts.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, one of ILSG’s members, said: “If councils are to persist in this iniquitous tax on disability, they must at least reintroduce some consistency and clarity to their approach.

The many councils that have failed to conduct an equality impact assessment – and to monitor the numbers of disabled people driven out of the care system by charging – must also get their act together.”

The government is expected to publish its long-awaited green paper on adult social care funding within weeks.

The Independent Living Strategy Group has been working on protecting and promoting disabled people’s rights to independent living in England since 2013.

Its members include disabled people who were part of the independent living movement during the 1970s and in later years, as well as younger activists, other individuals and organisations concerned with independent living.

15 November 2018

 

 

High court go-ahead for challenge to government’s ‘failure to ensure secret vote’

A disabled woman is challenging the government’s failure to ensure that she can vote secretly and independently in elections.

The high court has granted permission for the case being brought against the Cabinet Office by Rachael Andrews to proceed to a full hearing, after the court decided that her case was “arguable”.

Andrews, from Norwich, who is blind, said she had repeatedly been left distressed and upset by a system that either left her unsure whether she had voted for the right candidate, or relying on an election official to tell her whether she had marked the correct box on the ballot paper.

She said: “It is the fact that it is not secret that distresses me so much. As a disabled person I am fairly used to asking for people’s help.

But the fact that I have to ask somebody to do something that is so simple, and it still isn’t private, it just distresses and upsets me more than I can explain.

I feel like I am 12 years old, like I am not a confident, whole person.”

Andrews has already secured one legal victory, over her local authority, Broadland council, following its failure to enable her to vote independently and secretly at the 2015 election.

Since then she has cast her vote in the 2016 European Union referendum and at the 2017 general election, but on both occasions – despite the council’s best efforts – she has still been unable to vote independently and in secret.

She blames the government, because she says the tactile voting device (TVD) – a plastic template placed over the ballot paper that is supposed to allow blind people to vote in secret – is not fit for purpose.

She is challenging the government’s decision to designate the TVD as a suitable device to allow blind people to vote without any need for assistance under the Representation of the People Act 1983.

But she is also arguing for her right to a secret ballot under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Andrews successfully settled her claim against Broadland council for failing to have a TVD available for the 2015 general election.

But although she said its council officers have since done “everything they can within the law” to help her at subsequent elections, the system is still failing her.

In 2016, when voting in the referendum, she was not sure if she had placed her cross in the correct box and had to ask the presiding officer to tell her.

And last year, at the general election, she tried to use a postal vote, and was assisted by a member of council staff, but still had to use a TVD.

She said: “To this day I do not know if I put the cross in the place that I intended to vote.

He read everything out to me and I am assuming he also saw my vote as well because he was literally sat right next to me.”

Andrews, who is represented by human rights lawyers Leigh Day, said that other countries had introduced systems that allow blind voters to vote more easily, including introducing “audio voting booths” and telephone voting.

Graham Kirwan, who was forced to take legal action against his own local council over its failure to make the process of registering to vote and voting accessible to him as a visually-impaired person, said: “I fully appreciate the frustrating difficulties Rachael repeatedly faces having, like many other visually-impaired voters, faced them myself.”

He pointed to devices such as audio and magnification aids which could assist independent and secret voting, and said the government was “simply kicking accessible voting into the long grass”.

He added: “I 100 per cent support Rachael’s legal challenge and wish her all the best with her action.”

The government has argued in correspondence with Andrews’ lawyers that the legal challenge is unnecessary because it is already addressing the issue.

This refers to pledges in its much-criticised response to a consultation on how to make voting more accessible.

The government talked in its response in September about promoting guidance, improving training, and the possibility of allowing disabled voters to try out practice ballots in advance of elections.

And it said it would consider what improvements could be made for voters with sight loss “and look to make the necessary legislative changes when a suitable opportunity arises”.

But Andrews’ lawyers point out that the government’s response did not say what these improvements would be, or when it would change the law.

The Cabinet Office said it could not comment on ongoing legal cases.

But a Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “We consult with disabled individuals, and organisations that represent them such as RNIB regularly, to hear about their experiences of voting and recommendations on how government can make elections more accessible.

Every voice matters and this government is committed to building a democracy that works for all.”

The government’s accessibility of elections working group is set to meet in January, and will discuss again the improvements that could be made to the support provided to visually-impaired voters in polling stations.

But Andrews said: “I have always voted in general elections. I see it as a very important civic duty and feel very strongly that I should simply be afforded the same right to vote independently and in secret as everyone else. 

Sadly, I believe that many blind voters are currently put off voting because of the difficulties they face.

I am disappointed that it has been necessary to commence legal proceedings but am keen that the government stops dragging its feet and takes action to allow me to vote independently and secretly in time for the next general election.” 

Sean Humber, head of Leigh Day’s human rights department, said: “The provisions made for blind voters by the government are quite simply not fit for purpose.

The right to vote freely, independently and in secret is fundamental to any democracy.

We hope that the courts will hear our client’s challenge and order the government to reconsider the assistance they provide for blind voters.”

15 November 2018

 

 

Disabled activist calls for evidence of blue badge delays

An activist whose local authority warns disabled people that it could take up to 12 weeks to renew their blue parking badges is calling for disabled people in other parts of the country to pass on their experiences of problems and delays in the system.

It took Bob Williams-Findlay, a former chair of the British Council of Disabled People, more than six weeks to receive his new badge from Wolverhampton council, although he had been warned that it could take even longer.

He believes such delays are “unacceptable” and are not restricted to his local authority, and that other applicants face even longer delays.

Now he wants to hear from disabled people in other areas who have had similar problems*.

Wolverhampton council admitted this week that it warns disabled people to expect it to take up to 12 weeks for their applications to be dealt with.

Williams-Findlay pointed to a Disability News Service news story written nearly four years ago which described delays of up to 12 weeks in dealing with applications, and he said this showed little had changed around the country since then.

The system was introduced by the coalition government in 2011 and saw councils told to carry out more independent mobility assessments, while the government introduced a national database of blue badges.

The new electronic badges are sent out by a private contractor, Northgate Public Services, part of the Japanese IT multinational NEC Corporation.

But councils kept responsibility for dealing with badge applications and had to source occupational therapists or other health professionals to carry out the assessments.

Williams-Findlay said the current system was “oppressive, stressful and discriminatory” and the weeks he had been left without a badge had made his life “more disabling” because he had been deprived of “being able to park and participate within society”.

He said the delays curtailed the rights of disabled people under article 19 (on independent living) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Williams-Findlay said the Department for Transport (DfT) was guilty of institutional discrimination and that the centralised part of the system was “not fit for practice”, while the delays were “unacceptable”.

He left it too late to renew his badge and only applied to renew it a day or two before it expired, but he filled in the application form online on 28 September, taking written evidence to the council in person the same day.

On 25 October, he received a letter – dated 18 October – which said his application had been successful, and that once he paid the £10 fee the council would order a new badge, which would take up to 21 days to arrive. His badge eventually arrived on 8 November.

A DfT spokeswoman said the delays were “primarily a matter for local authorities, who are responsible for processing applications, and timescales do vary”.

She added: “The department has not been made aware of any significant problems.”

But she said the department was currently developing “an improved online application process”.

She said: “There have been no problems with the private contractor, whose performance is monitored regularly.”

A Wolverhampton council spokeswoman said: “Our advertised timescales are 12 weeks (from the time of receiving all relevant supporting documentation) for processing.”

And she said the council website advises applicants to apply 10 weeks before their badge is due to expire.

She said she understood that the badges were “very important” because “having a blue badge can significantly change a person’s independence, which motivates us to continue to improve our service by reviewing our processes and listening to feedback received from our customers”.

She said the council had “recently updated its webpage to be clearer on the process and pre-requisites”, and that the government was updating the blue badge application form after consulting with users.

Asked whether she believed delays were a national problem, she said: “Each council has a statutory duty to administer Blue Badges on behalf of the central government.

We are unable to comment on other councils.”

Another disabled activist, Barbara Lisicki, a trainer and writer, has told Williams-Findlay that the renewal process in her London council area was “shoddy, unclear and utterly useless”.

She said the centralised online system was “not fit for purpose, especially as it is misleading and gives incomplete, poorly phrased instructions”.

If a local councillor had not intervened on her behalf to speed up the process, she would have been left unable to park in the accessible bay outside her house, she said.

A third disabled activist has told Williams-Findlay that she was told by her local authority in the south of England to expect a 12-week wait for her blue badge.

*Any disabled people with reports of problems or delays with renewing or applying for a blue badge can email Bob Williams-Findlay at baggiebob1@icloud.com

15 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:09
Nov 112018
 

[This post is a copy of a post (with permission) from the Mental Health Resistance Network, that we have publish in support of their campaign.]

Front page graphic, reading 'Now that

Mental Health Resistance Network

Our Agenda, not your agenda

We Demand …

 

We reject the medical model of mental distress

Psychiatry decontextualises our distress. There is little evidence that the cause is biological and overwhelming evidence that it is caused by trauma and social injustices. Medication may act as a painkiller but cannot “cure” our distress.

We demand:

  1. A public inquiry into the harm caused by psychiatric drugs and ECT.

  2. Research and manufacture of drugs to be nationalised to remove the profit motive.

  3. Provision of treatment where medication is refused, and an end to forced treatment.

  4. An inquiry into violence and abuse of patients in psychiatric wards and in the community.

  5. An end to control and restraint in psychiatric wards and community settings.

  6. A public inquiry into institutional racism, sexism, classism and LGBT discrimination in psychiatry and all services.

  7. Culturally appropriate services to be provided to members of the BAME communities which recognise that racism is a causative factor in mental distress.

  8. A fully funded, national 24 hour suicide prevention and support service.

  9. The provision of alternative treatments such as Open Dialogue, Hearing Voices Networks and holistic therapies.

  10. CAMHS waiting lists to be investigated and all Cygnet Hospitals in the UK to be shut down forthwith.

  11. Long term specialist mental health care if needed – no discharge from services to save money.

  12. Fully funded mental health and social care. An end to payment by results – results are subjective.

  13. Crisis houses be made available to anyone who needs them and to be staffed with fully qualified therapists and mental health nurses instead of poorly qualified support workers with little or no training.

  14. Talking therapies that are trauma informed to be freely available.

  15. Services to be user led including a review of the Mental Health Act.

  16. User involvement in statutory services to be free from service provider control.

  17. An end to the increasing medicalisation of children and adolescents.

  18. Our physical healthcare must not be dismissed as being ‘all in our minds.’

  19. An independent body to oversee the CMHTs to ensure good practice and adherence to NICE guidelines.

We reject the neoliberal model that decontextualises our distress

Like the medical model, the neoliberal model of mental distress locates the cause of distress/madness within the individual and not in society; our thinking and attitudes are blamed without reference to social context. This model uses CBT, Mindfulness, positive psychology and the recovery approach as putative treatments. We reject the recovery approach outright with its insinuation that our continued distress is due to our lack of effort. Any measuring of the quality of our mental health will be done by us and will be measured against our values, not based on how useful we are to rich employers. We consider short term CBT and Mindfulness to have limited value. Positive psychology is not a substitute for proper housing, a secure income, free healthcare and a more equal society.

This model, like the medical model, absolves society from any responsibility for both the causes and treatment of mental distress.

We deplore the use of treatment as a Trojan horse to smuggle into our psyches the beliefs and values that benefit the rich. All mental health care should be for the sole purpose of alleviating our distress and enabling us to fulfil our goals in life. Any other motive is brainwashing and abuse.

The medical and neoliberal models are not social models.

We demand a social model of mental distress

The social model locates the cause and remedy of mental distress within the social, economic, political and cultural context in which it occurs; it takes account of personal trauma along with our material circumstances, societal inequality and discrimination.

When large numbers of people become unwell, we need to look beyond biology and consider what is happening at the societal level.” Danny Dorling, Professor in the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

We demand that you acknowledge that our material conditions affect our mental health and prioritise making these adequate. All people who live with mental distress, including those with addictions, must have secure housing and income. Failure to meet this demand is uncivilized and consciously cruel.

We demand:

  1. An end to the abusive practices of the DWP: the degrading and stressful assessments for benefits (the Work Capability Assessment and PIP assessments), unrealistic conditionality and all sanctions.

  2. Universal Credit to be stopped and scrapped immediately.

  3. A public inquiry into benefit deaths with legal action taken against any parliamentarian implicated in these deaths.

  4. Legal action to be taken against health professionals and benefits assessors who cause harm by colluding with the removal of social security.

  5. GPs to be mandated to provide supporting letters for benefit claims for free.

  6. Free and independent social security advice for everyone claiming benefits.

  7. That the DWP take full responsibility for obtaining further medical evidence from claimants’ own healthcare professionals.

  8. Our financial and housing security be treated as a priority by all health workers.

  9. Private companies to be removed from carrying out benefits assessments.

  10. People held in prisons to be given proper access to mental health care while detained and thereafter.

  11. An immediate end to the lie that work can cure mental distress.

  12. That adjustments to be made to the workplace are based on a social model. CBT, resilience training and the Recovery approach are not adjustments to the workplace, they are adjustments to the worker.

  13. Access to a free, specialist, independent mental health advocacy service for people both in and out of work.

  14. The opportunity to pursue education and employment of our choice and at our own pace.

  15. The admission that unemployment is structural and is not the fault of the individual.

  16. Practical help to be made available to everyone in mental distress who needs it (for example material help for parents to care for a child, provision of personal assistants, greater support for carers and so on).

  17. The abolition of the Work and Health Programme and the merging of health services with the DWP including the removal of all work coaches from NHS settings.

  18. An end to the unethical use of psychology to force conformity to a political ideology.

  19. Removal of the Behavioural Insights Team from the lives of people in mental distress.

  20. Immediate steps to be taken to end the material inequality that is driving our mental health crisis.

  21. An end to the privatisation of the NHS and reversal of privatisation already in place.

  22. The resignation of Sir Simon Stevens who is overseeing the dismantling of the NHS.

  23. The resignation of Sir Simon Wessely who is unfit to Chair the review of the Mental Health Act because of his involvement with the discredited PACE Trials and his participation in the “Malingering and Illness Deception Conference” and book of the same name.

  24. Urgent action to be taken to undo the damage caused by the ‘scrounger’narrative used to prime the public to accept the abuse of disabled people.

  25. The reinstatement of day centres.

  26. Access to all areas of social and personal life to be ensured by making reasonable adjustments to our social and physical environment, with Survivors leading the process to identify what adjustments we need.

  27. Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and Lord David Freud be brought to justice for their wilful cruelty towards people in mental distress.

  28. The recommendations made by the UNCRPD following its investigation into violations of the rights of disabled people in the UK must be implemented in full and as a matter of urgency.

  29. The plan to “make efficiency savings” i.e. cuts, of £1 billion to mental health services by 2020 announced by Lord Carter of Coles* must be dropped. * Independent Report for the Department of Health 2016 called “Operational Productivity and Performance in English NHS Acute Hospitals: Warranted Variations.”

  30. That public events and online information, especially from governmental bodies, MUST be available on BSL (British Sign Language) and easy read all the time.

  31. That helplines be accessible for people with speech and hearing issues, i.e. live chat and video chat with the option of the help of BSL (British Sign Language) interpreting.

We reject large charities that claim to advocate for us, for example National Mind. Those with DWP and NHS contracts have a conflict of interest. They are no different from the huge corporations that are only concerned with profit margins. We speak for ourselves, Mental Health charities do not represent us.

We reject the Westminster Health Forum Keynote Seminar on “The Next Steps for Mental Health Services.” It is not concerned with our best interests and is therefore illegitimate.

We declare that the speakers at this forum are seeking to profit financially from our mental distress; are causing our mental distress; do not care about people in mental distress; and are implicated in the deaths of benefit claimants for failing to demand an end to DWP abuse.

If you are not with us in resisting austerity, inequality, victim blaming and the culture of profiteering from our mental distress, then you are the cause of our distress.

*We understand the term “Survivor” to mean a self-identification for all Survivors of the mental health system and people with addictions, autism, psychosocial disabilities and neurodiversity.

Dedicated to the memory of Robert Dellar mental health campaigner and writer

1964 – 2016

 Posted by at 22:23
Nov 022018
 

DPAC Submission to Permanent Peoples Tribunal on migration, London, 2018.

It is of course extremely important to challenge the exploitation of migrants and refugees in all contexts. However, using evidence from work with disabled asylum seekers, we suggest that campaigns for the ‘right to work’ need to be treated with caution for a number of reasons:

  1. Campaigns for the ‘right’ to work should not ignore the barriers to finding and being offered work which is achievable, non-exploitative and worthwhile. We need only look at the experiences of Disabled citizens and people on benefits, to predict that the ‘right’ would soon become an obligation irrespective of the barriers that are faced.
  2. To build effective resistance to the injustice faced by asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers, we must recognise that this does not exist in isolation from the injustice faced by the wider population. In the context of citizens’ efforts to resist systematic pressure to find paid work, whatever the cost to themselves and those they care for, we suggest focussing on the ‘right’ to work may hinder chances to build a broader movement.
  3. Calling for the ‘right’ to work risks buying into capitalist definitions of ‘work’ as paid employment, obscuring the unpaid material and emotional work associated with survival which is inherent in the search for asylum. If what we are really calling for is a stable income sufficient to pay for living costs, respect, ability to make worthwhile contributions … then that is what we should be calling for. Those attributes are not automatically associated with paid employment.

Before continuing, it is important to stress that reservations about campaigning for the right to work must be tempered by awareness that for refused asylum seekers, denied all support, the ‘right’ to work, even for a few hours, could enable a person to eat without risking a criminal record which could hasten deportation. In that context, people’s immediate survival needs must be prioritised over objectives for longer term justice. Similarly, it is unnecessarily frustrating for people who have skills, capacity and energy, to be prevented from finding paid employment. We are not therefore arguing against campaigns for the right to paid employment as a short-term measure. We are suggesting such campaigns are no long-term solution, and the risks to the wider movement need to be recognised.


An asylum seeker support worker writes:

I have recently been working with an asylum seeker who experiences serious mental distress, has no support and is living on the street. I am referring to this individual because I know him, but the situation is of course not uncommon. Removing rights from those whose asylum claims are refused is one of the deliberate consequences of the hostile environment, but this problem goes much wider. There are increasing numbers of citizens living on the streets in similar circumstances.

The individual I am referring to is articulate, intelligent and resourceful, however he cannot focus on any one conversation because he is also listening to ongoing conversations with voices audible only to himself. He is clearly distressed in ways that are painfully visible to observers. This person spends his days searching for food, somewhere to sleep, wash, and ways to find some form of support and security. None of this could be classed as leisure. It is the unpaid work of survival.

This person talks about how the only paid work available to him is illegal, exploitative and low paid. He is aware that if he were to take such work, he risks getting a criminal record and so further reducing his chance of ever getting leave to remain. He says his priority is to get the right to work. However, on further discussion, he elaborates that what he actually wants is somewhere safe to live, a steady source of income, security, support, community and something constructive to do. I suggest it is unlikely that these needs would be met with the forms of work that would be open to him, with or without the legal right. It should not be assumed that the work currently open to him would suddenly be available with a living wage, if he were to get the legal right to work. Furthermore, we can see from the wider population how easily the ‘right’ to work becomes an unrealisable obligation. The last thing this person, or anyone else, needs is to be further vilified for not having paid employment.

The barriers to asylum seekers, and particularly disabled asylum seekers, finding non-exploitative employment go well beyond the legal right. I am aware of people with refugee status, including those selected for the Vulnerable Person’s Relocation Scheme who have the right to work, but who complain of the additional stress and pressure caused by having to look for work, when there are so many barriers to finding, and being offered, anything suitable.

It would be interesting to find out from asylum and refugee support organisations, what proportion of employees with the legal right to work, have lived experience of forced migration, destitution and disability, including serious mental distress. If personal observations are correct that the proportion is not high, even where lived experience is highly relevant, then it would suggest that the barriers to paid work go far beyond legal entitlement. If such organisations could lead the way by respecting the knowledge gained by lived experience, and providing paid employment with a living wage, they could then also support others in reducing the barriers.

Most importantly, the asylum sector should not be seen in isolation. It is not as if there is a ready supply of rewarding, worthwhile work available to citizens in similar positions of destitution and mental distress. While the asylum sector is campaigning for the right to work, there are wider campaigns for the right not to work. A search of #dwp crimes reveals evidence of the suffering and many lives that are being lost when support is removed from citizens who are unable to exercise the supposed ‘right’ to work.

In this context, perhaps a more constructive focus of campaigns would be on building a broader movement, and working together for the rights to a regular income, support, housing, respect, contribution, community, security…. Together, we should challenge the idea that there is anything intrinsically positive about the right to work in a capitalist economy.

Rebecca Yeo


The hearing is a public event, click this link if you wish to attend

Date and Time

Sat, 3 Nov 2018, 09:30 –

Sun, 4 Nov 2018, 16:00 GMT

Location

Friends House

173-177 Euston Road

London

NW1 2BJ

 Posted by at 16:10
Nov 012018
 

DWP refuses to say if it followed death review advice on ‘threatening’ universal credit

Ministers are refusing to say if they acted on the recommendations of a secret review that linked the death of a benefit claimant with the “threatening” conditions they were forced to accept when signing up to universal credit.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has breached freedom of information laws by failing to say whether it followed the recommendation by one of its own internal process reviews to make universal credit’s so-called “claimant commitment” less threatening following the death.

DWP’s failure came as the chancellor, Philip Hammond, attempted in this week’s budget to calm concerns about the rollout of the troubled new system by announcing extra funding of £1 billion over five-and-a-half years that he said would help the migration of claimants of other benefits onto universal credit from next year.

He also announced £1.7 billion a year to increase universal credit work allowances.

But critics have said the extra money will do little to address growing concerns that flaws at the heart of the universal credit system are exposing disabled people and other claimants to strict conditions and sanctions, resulting in severe mental distress and extreme poverty.

Only last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how an autistic woman said she had been left without vital financial support for nearly two years because she could not cope with the face-to-face interview she had to undergo to complete her universal credit claim.

Now DWP is facing questions over why it is refusing to say if it followed the recommendations of its own internal review to make the claimant commitment less threatening, following the death of a universal credit claimant.

Only the barest details of the death are available, describing only the recommendations made by the review.

But those details show that a panel of reviewers who examined the circumstances around the death concluded that it seemed “excessive” for DWP to include eight references to benefit sanctions and how much money a claimant would lose if they breached their claimant commitment.

The claimant commitment sets out the “responsibilities” that a claimant has to accept in return for receiving universal credit, and “the consequences of not meeting them”.

An examination of guidance on the claimant commitment on DWP’s website suggests – although it does not prove – that the department has ignored the panel’s recommendation, as it has not been updated since April 2016. 

The claimant commitment review was carried out at some point between April 2016 and June 2018.

Following a freedom of information request submitted by DNS, DWP had 20 working days to say whether it had followed the panel’s recommendation to “reconsider the wording of the Claimant Commitment”, along with recommendations made in 11 other internal process reviews, all of which were carried out between April 2016 and June 2018, and all but three of which examined circumstances that led to the death of a benefit claimant.

But DWP’s freedom of information department failed to respond to the request submitted by DNS on 28 September, breaching its Freedom of Information Act duties.

DWP’s press office refused to comment on the failure to respond to the request, other than to say that its freedom of information team would “be in touch”.

A DWP spokeswoman refused to say why the team had failed to respond to the request.

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

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

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

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

1 November 2018

 

 

Concerns over industry’s repeated objections to councils’ accessible homes plans

Representatives of the home-building industry are engaged in a countrywide campaign to defeat attempts by councils to ensure more accessible homes are built in their areas, research by Disability News Service (DNS) has shown.

Home Builders Federation (HBF) has lodged “worrying” objections to plans for accessible housing drafted by at least 15 local authorities in England since March.

The objections to councils’ draft local plans concern their proposed targets for the proportion of new homes that should be built to accessible housing standards.

HBF has repeatedly objected to targets describing the proportion of new homes that should be built to the basic M4(2)* accessible housing standard and also to those for new homes built to the stricter M4(3) standard for wheelchair-accessible properties.

Both the government standards are currently optional, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called last week for them to become mandatory, in its major report on equality and human rights across Britain.

DNS has found HBF objections raised since March to draft local plans drawn up by more than 15 local authorities, including Liverpool City Council, Sevenoaks District Council, Reading Borough Council, East Cambridgeshire District Council, Kettering Borough Council, Darlington Borough Council, Sunderland City Council and Middlesbrough Council.

Each of the objections is critical of the council’s attempts to impose targets for local housing developments that would see a certain proportion of new homes built to M4(2) and M4(3) standards.

HBF describes itself as “the principal representative body of the house-building industry in England and Wales”.

Its membership includes “multi-national PLCs, regional developers and small, local builders” and its members account for more than four-fifths of all new housing built for sale in England and Wales at market prices and “a large proportion of newly built affordable housing”.

In response to Liverpool’s draft plans, HBF says: “The HBF does not consider that this policy is required, it is considered that local needs can be met without the introduction of the optional housing standards.”

It calls for the policy to be “deleted in its entirety” or, if the council retained the targets, “ensure they have the appropriate evidence to support this policy”.

In the objection to the Sevenoaks plan, it says: “It cannot be sufficient to state that there is an ageing population who are more likely to require such homes.

Our aging population is a national concern and one faced by all areas. If this were sufficient justification then the Government would have made the standard mandatory.

Therefore we do not consider the Council to have provided the evidence required by national policy to justify all new homes being built to the optional standard M4(2).”

HBF even objected to Sunderland’s proposal to require just 10 per cent of larger new developments to be built to the M4(2) standard, which it says was “not considered to be sound as it is not justified or consistent with national policy”.

DNS was first alerted to HBF’s frequent objections to local accessible housing plans by Cllr Pam Thomas, a wheelchair-user and a prominent Labour member of Liverpool City Council.

She was not available to comment this week, but she told a fringe meeting at Labour’s annual conference in Liverpool in September: “The law doesn’t help us at the moment.

We want to [ensure more accessible housing] through our local plan but some developers and the Home Builders Federation in particular objected, as they do everywhere.”

She told the meeting that HBF objected to such plans at every opportunity.

An EHRC spokeswoman said this week: “Inappropriate or inaccessible housing is increasingly leaving disabled people trapped and isolated within their own homes.

This is unacceptable in a modern society. The objections from Home Builders Federation are worrying and demonstrate the concerning attitudes that we raised in our recent housing inquiry.

Local authorities told us about their frustration at the system which pitches them against developers who challenge the viability of proposals for accessible housing.

The situation would be greatly improved if building regulations were amended to ensure that all new houses were built to a good minimum standard of accessibility and adaptability.”

Baroness [Sal] Brinton, president of the Liberal Democrats and a wheelchair-user, who spoke about the accessible housing crisis in a House of Lords debate last week, told DNS that it was “concerning that local councils are trying to do the right thing but are being pushed back by developers”.

She said that M4(2) homes were “designed to be inclusive and flexible for a whole range of households”, and that the government should amend building regulations to ensure that they become the “mandatory minimum” for all new homes, “especially given the very small extra building cost per housing unit and the reduction in costs of adaptations at a later stage”. 

She added: “This saving is much more stark when health and social care costs such as domiciliary care, residential care [and] hospital stays are added into the picture.”

Baroness Brinton called on the government to act immediately on advice from parliamentary committees, including the Equality Act 2010 and disability committee, which she was a member of, and organisations such as the accessible housing charity Habinteg, and “amend the building regulations to ensure category M4(2) becomes the mandatory minimum”.

An HBF spokesman said in a statement: “Planning policy provides the opportunity for local authorities to set figures in local plans for houses to be built to M4 standards.

If they choose to do so, the planning system requires local authorities to provide evidence of the need in their area.

If they abide by this requirement their request will be supported by the local plan inspector and house builders will abide by the adopted policy.

HBF looks to ensure that local authorities are abiding by their responsibilities under the planning system and are planning for the right amount and types of homes in their areas.”

He added: “Housebuilders will adapt new dwellings to meet the purchasers’ specific requirements.

We believe that such an approach is a better way to provide the type and number of accessible homes required in a particular area as opposed to a blanket requirement for such modifications that may not reflect local need.”

HBF says it would only be able to take legal action against a council over its accessible housing policies – through a high court judicial review – if it believed a planning inspector had made an error in deciding on those plans. It has yet to take such action.

*Homes built to the M4(2) standard have 16 accessible or adaptable features, similar to the Lifetime Homes standard developed in the early 1990s to make homes more easily adaptable for lifetime use, while M4(3) homes are those that are supposed to be fully wheelchair-accessible

1 November 2018

 

 

Budget 2018: Chancellor’s billions ‘will not halt universal credit humanitarian crisis’

The chancellor’s decision to pump billions of pounds into universal credit will not halt the “humanitarian crisis” that will be caused by its systemic flaws, disabled activists have warned.

Philip Hammond announced in this week’s budget that he had found £1 billion – spread over five-and-a-half years – to ease the delayed “managed migration” process that will see about three million claimants of “legacy” benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) moved across to the new universal credit.

He also promised another £1.7 billion a year to pay for more generous work allowances for universal credit, which combines six income-related benefits into one.

Hammond began his speech on Monday by making it clear that his budget was “unashamedly” intended to help “hard-working families… people who get up early every morning… the strivers, the grafters and the carers”.

Managed migration will begin next year but will affect only about 10,000 people in 2019, before accelerating in 2020.

One of the flaws of universal credit repeatedly raised by critics is the length of time – at least five weeks, usually – that a claimant has to wait before they receive their first payment.

Among the new managed migration measures detailed in the budget documents are that claimants of income-related ESA, jobseeker’s allowance and income support will receive an extra two weeks of those payments during the transition to universal credit, but only from July 2020.

There will also be a cut, from October 2019, in the maximum rate at which universal credit advance payments can be paid back, from 40 per cent of the standard living costs allowance to 30 per cent; and, from October 2021, there will be an increase from 12 to 16 months in the length of time DWP will take to claw back these advance payments.

Budget documents also reveal that the much-delayed rollout might now not be completed until June 2024, rather than the end of 2023, once a “six month contingency” for further possible delays is taken into account.

Hammond also announced that the amount that disabled people and households with children can earn before their universal credit begins to be withdrawn – known as the work allowance – will rise by £1,000 a year from April 2019.

This will mean that those affected will keep up to £630 a year, with the measure eventually costing the government an extra £1.7 billion a year.

Bob Ellard, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, which is campaigning to scrap universal credit altogether, dismissed any suggestion that the budget signified an end to austerity.

He said: “While tax cuts for the rich took priority, Hammond did at least find some money to appease Tory MPs’ complaints over universal credit.

It will make little real difference to claimants, however, as universal credit will still be the cause of a humanitarian crisis in this country, whatever last-minute tinkering the Tories do.

And the elephant that wasn’t allowed into the room was the extreme poverty that many disabled people are living in, even before being forced to transfer to universal credit.”

Disability Rights UK said that “while these changes may be positive all are subject to delay and overall do not remove universal credit’s delivery and design problems”. 

Dr Victoria Armstrong, chief executive of Disability North, said her organisation witnessed the “devastating impact of the roll out of universal credit on a daily basis”. 

She said: “Whilst in principle the idea to have a universal benefit could be seen as a step forward, we have seen it be used as a vehicle for cutting basic income for disabled people.  

Not only that, the way that it has been administrated is not fit for purpose, for example the unacceptable waits, pushing people further into poverty, the use of food banks. Disability North have so many examples of this.  

Therefore, we broadly welcome the £1 billion to manage the migration process, but much of this should not be thrown at the DWP, or even Citizens Advice, but should be going to local, user-led organisations like ours so that people can be supported to understand and access the system (including digital access) and appeal incorrect decisions.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said: “Pumping big money into a model failing because it is overly-simplistic and over-reliant on technology won’t solve its problems.

Disabled people are among those worst affected by this government’s failing policies and politics.

It’s just hoping that continuing attacks on Labour’s leadership and talking up the end of austerity will keep the punters sweet, long enough.

We just have to hope that UK democracy is not yet so damaged that the Tories will get away with it again at the next election.”

In a blog published the day after the budget, Professor Sir Ian Diamond, the new chair of DWP’s social security advice body, the social security advisory committee, welcomed the “positive steps” on universal credit announced in the budget, but said the managed migration process was still “enormously ambitious”.

He said his committee was concerned that the government’s plans “load an unreasonable level of risk onto the claimant” and added: “We fear that, in too many cases, they may be adversely impacted by the proposals or fall out of the social security system entirely.”

Disabled activists have repeatedly warned that universal credit is “rotten to the core” with “soaring” rates of sanctions and foodbank use in areas where it has been introduced.

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

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

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

*For further details on the universal credit changes in the budget, see this blog by the Child Poverty Action Group’s Josephine Tucker

1 November 2018

 

 

Budget 2018: Chancellor’s ‘end of austerity’ claim ‘rings hollow’ on social care

The chancellor’s claim that the “era of austerity is finally coming to an end” and his announcement of further short-term funding for adult social care will “ring hollow” for many disabled people following years of cuts, say user-led organisations.

In this week’s budget speech, Philip Hammond provided an extra £240 million for adult social care next year, and another £410 million that will be shared with children’s social care.

There was also another £55 million for disabled facilities grants (DFGs) for this year (2018-19), although – in an error described by a Treasury press officer as “a slip of the tongue” – Hammond wrongly announced this as £45 million in his budget speech.

The government had previously agreed to increase funding for DFGs – which pay for access improvements to disabled people’s homes – from £220 million in 2015-16 to £505 million in 2019-20.

The extra funding for social care, described as “a short-term sticking plaster to stave off catastrophic collapse in social care” by Labour’s shadow minister for social care Barbara Keeley, comes ahead of a long-delayed green paper on adult social care, due by the end of the year.

Government figures released last month show the impact of long-term funding cuts.

The figures from NHS Digital show that, in real terms – allowing for inflation – spending on adult social care by English councils has fallen by six per cent since its peak in 2009-2010, from £19.16 billion to £17.93 billion in 2017-18. This figure does not allow for the continuing growth in demand for adult social care over that period.

Dr Rupert Earl, chair of the Spinal Injuries Association, was among those disabled campaigners sceptical of the difference the new social care funding would make.

He said: “The conclusion that ‘the era of austerity is coming to an end’ will ring hollow for many thousands of spinal cord-injured and other disabled people.

Our own evidence shows that the reality is very different; care packages are all too often being cut to unsafe levels, waiting times for hospital admissions and outpatient appointments are getting ever longer and disabled people are more likely to be living in poverty.”

He added: “The crisis in care funding is a reality for many and we wait to see how the modest funding promised will remedy many years of cuts.

Our advice line callers tell us of widespread variation in access and eligibility to care, delays in assessment and arbitrary caps on what is funded.”

The disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell said the new money for adult social care would be “largely swallowed up by the huge local authority deficit experienced up and down the country.

What little money that might be left over will be targeted at providing the same limited care for older people leaving hospital, to clear the NHS beds crisis.

Younger working age disabled adults will not get a look in, as usual.

For those desperate to progress independent living in this country, this budget is a sure sign that their human right to inclusion is not on the government agenda.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said it was a budget “from a government concerned with its survival rather than people’s wellbeing or encouraging a sustainable economy”.

He said: “For social care, it’s yet again a case of sticking plaster – too little, too late – on an inherently defective system.”

Dr Victoria Armstrong, chief executive of Disability North, said: “Any increase is welcomed, but £240 million for adult social care this year [announced last month at the Tory party conference] and £650 million for adult and children’s social care next year still falls short of what is necessary, and if this is just to plug holes in existing systems and services then that’s not going to work.

Our social care system is not fit for purpose; there are huge flaws, many of which are violating the human rights of disabled people on a daily basis, leading to further health problems and, in some cases, death.

And so an investment needs to be made in order to rethink the system, not just throw money at a system unfit for purpose.”

But she said that Disability North had seen some good health and care initiatives in the north-east, including the introduction of personal health budgets and “good use and support of direct payments in Newcastle”.

She said there needed to be “a focus on what the person at the centre of the social care wants, and the outcome or service provision shouldn’t depend upon where you live”.

Meanwhile, Spectrum Centre for Independent Living, which is based in Southampton, has produced a discussion paper aimed at shaping its own vision for social care, ahead of the publication of the government’s green paper later this year.

Spectrum said it was seeking “bold, creative and radical solutions” and wanted to “encourage everyone with an interest in the future of social care to contribute their own ideas so that we can present a new vision for social care that meets everyone’s needs in a sustainable way”.

1 November 2018

 

 

Atos threatens to call police after claimant questions PIP assessor’s mental health training

Staff working for a discredited benefit assessments contractor threatened to call the police after a claimant asked about the mental health qualifications of the nurse who was assessing his eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP).

Atos has now launched an investigation into what happened at the assessment centre in Leeds, which saw the nurse abandon Kris Weston’s assessment after just a couple of minutes.

She did not realise that Weston, a composer and trained sound engineer, had been recording the assessment.

Weston began the assessment last month by telling the nurse that he had stayed up all night because of the extreme anxiety he experiences when he has to deal with institutions.

He had spent three days putting together a 10-page description of his complex mental health problems – and what he says is the “continual failure to even listen to his problems by multiple institutions” – in the hope that the assessor would help him secure the financial and health support he needed.

He explained that he had been unfairly described in the past as “violent” by the NHS after a telephone argument, although she told him that Atos had no record of this.

She appears to have wrongly blamed the decision to refuse him a home assessment on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), when such decisions are taken by the assessment companies, Atos and Capita.

The assessor can then be heard leaving the room after Weston began asking about her experience and qualifications in mental health.

She told Weston that she was “not happy to sit in this room with you” because she said he had questioned her qualifications and was “being difficult for no reason”.

Weston, who did not raise his voice or threaten the assessor at any point in the conversation, told her: “You seem to have had a bit of an attitude from the start, a bit of a blasé attitude.

You didn’t look at me, you didn’t say hello to me, you didn’t treat me like a human.”

Despite the lack of any aggression or threats from Weston, a colleague of the assessor then told him he needed to leave the building “or we’ll call the police”, before repeating: “We’ll call the police if you don’t leave.”

Weston tried to explain to Atos staff that he had “wanted to make sure that somebody understands my illness” and added: “When ill people come in you need to have compassion, not treat them with an attitude.”

A third member of staff then denied that they had threatened to call the police, before a colleague said: “He’s just wanting an argument… just shut the door.”

Weston told Disability News Service (DNS) this week: “It seems like an outrageous scandal that someone in the pits of despair, when they are asking for help, gets treated like this.

I am quite a complex person. I just wanted to make sure the person in front of me was able to deal with it properly and had the correct qualifications.

I was actually trying to get help. I really do want help. Mental illness help should not just be for the polite who stay quiet.”

He said he had felt severely distressed and “isolated” after the assessment, but after posting the recording online he has been flooded with supportive comments on social media.

He said: “The recording represents not just me, but the hundreds of stories I have heard in only a few days since I put this on the internet, all the people that have told me their awful stories that they didn’t record.

I thought my recording would stand out as abuse but it’s actually just a blip in a sea of negligence that no private company will ever fix because corporations cannot have inherent morals and no amount of legislation is going to stop them from cutting corners for profit.

The staggering scale of the problem is more than I anticipated, to say the least. This is in fact a nationwide scandal affecting our people now.

I’m not that far off being an economic and cultural asset to my country if I could just get a clear run and be understood without being beaten down over and over again and driven to despair.

This applies to a lot of people. We are holding ourselves back by keeping people in complete stress about their food, living space and other basic human needs.

Given the resources they need, people who are suffering from the system itself could actually become an asset.

After all, injecting our resources into a failing private banking system seemed to get them back on their feet.

To think the people charged with running our country could miss this economic no-brainer is breathtaking.”

Asked for an explanation for what happened and whether Atos would apologise, a spokesman for the company said: “We are aware of the recording and an investigation is underway.”

Weston’s experience has added to years of evidence collected by DNS and other journalists, campaigners and politicians of dishonesty, unprofessional behaviour and harsh treatment delivered to benefit claimants by Atos assessors.

In one case, reported in January by DNS, an Atos nurse carrying out a PIP assessment fired questions at a disabled man’s wife while her husband was in the middle of a severe and prolonged series of epileptic seizures just a few feet away.

In February, DNS reported how more than 160 Atos assessors had had at least four complaints about their behaviour, competence and honesty made against them in three-month periods in 2016.

And in June, DNS reported how a doctor working for Atos told a gay disabled man she was assessing that his sexuality meant he was “defective” and that God needed to fix him like a “broken” car.

1 November 2018

 

 

Welsh government’s independent living decision ‘threatens support of hundreds’

The Welsh government’s decision to close its independent living grant scheme and pass the funding to local authorities could see cuts to the support packages of hundreds of disabled people, new research suggests.

Disabled campaigners say that information released by local authorities in Wales has created “extreme cause for concern” about the transition process, which is seeing funding from the interim Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) passed to the 22 councils.

WILG was set up by the Welsh government – with UK government funding – as a short-term measure to support former recipients of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) when ILF was closed in June 2015.

But the Welsh government is now closing WILG and by April next year the 22 councils will be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients in Wales.

The Welsh government’s own estimates, released to Disability News Service (DNS) last night (Wednesday), suggest that about 200 former WILG-recipients will see their support packages cut by next April.

Members of the Save WILG campaign, led by former ILF-recipient Nathan Lee Davies, submitted freedom of information requests to all 22 Welsh councils earlier this year, and they say the responses proved they were right to be concerned that the transition process would lead to many former ILF-users seeing their support packages cut.

Few of the councils were willing to provide detailed information about how the process of re-assessing the needs of the former ILF-recipients in their areas would affect their support packages.

But some of the local authorities admitted that a significant proportion of those currently receiving support through the WILG have already had their support packages cut.

In Wrexham, Davies’ home local authority, the council said it had re-assessed less than a third of former ILF-users but had already cut the support of 18 of them, increasing support for just seven, and leaving one package unchanged.

Monmouthshire council had cut four of 19 packages, Conwy had reduced two of 12 – although the vast majority had still to be assessed – while Caerphilly had reduced four of 29, Merthyr Tydfil had reduced 15 per cent, and both Carmarthenshire and Rhondda councils had cut 10 per cent of support packages.

About a third of the councils – including Pembrokeshire, Gwynedd, Anglesey, Cardiff and Blaenau Gwent – failed to say how many support packages had been cut.

But some local authorities did produce more encouraging answers, with Powys council saying the reassessment process had seen it increase the support packages of 59 of 62 former ILF-users.

Although Port Talbot council had reviewed less than a third of service-users, half had had their packages increased, and the other half had seen them stay at the same level, while Bridgend decided that all but one former ILF-recipient would continue to receive the same support package.

There were also repeated warnings from the local authorities that they could not promise that support packages would not be cut in the future, with Cardiff council warning that “no guarantees as to the future are possible with any funding arrangement”.

Asked if it could guarantee that WILF recipients would have their care packages ring-fenced from all future austerity cuts forced onto local authorities, both Merthyr Tydfil and Port Talbot replied with just one word: “No.”

Huw Irranca-Davies, the Welsh government’s minister for social care, has previously pledged that no former ILF-users would lose out in the transition process.

But a Welsh government spokesman said that its most recent monitoring of the transition had found about 100 of 580 WILG-recipients were having their support “provided in a different manner than previously”*, while 130 were receiving more support.

As about 1,300 people are due to go through the transition, this suggests that about 200 former WILG-users will eventually see their packages cut.

He insisted that the government was committed to ensuring that all disabled people are “fully supported to live independently in their communities”.

And he said that Irranca-Davies had visited both Powys and Wrexham councils this week to “see at first hand the work they have been undertaking” and “will be speaking to other authorities about this over the next few weeks”.

The government spokesman said: “He will also be asking authorities to undertake a deep dive of a sample of cases where there have been significant changes in the type of support people are receiving, to establish the reasons for this and ensure they are receiving the appropriate support they require to live independently.

This is in addition to the ongoing monitoring of the programme, and an additional independent evaluation which has been commissioned by the minister.”

The spokesman claimed that the “feedback from disabled people” on the transition programme had been “positive”.

He said: “Together with our partners in local government and the third sector, we will continue to closely monitor the process and the individual outcomes of the transition from the ILF to the person-centred and co-produced approach to independent living in Wales.”

But Miranda Evans, policy and programmes manager for Disability Wales, said her organisation was “extremely concerned that disabled people with high support requirements are having their hours of care reduced when transferring over to direct payments”. 

She said: “In a number of cases people are losing their ‘socialising’ hours, which is of great concern. 

This vital support enables people to play a part in their community, volunteer with a local group and get involved in political life. 

Without this necessary support disabled people will become isolated, disengaged and unable to leave their home.”

Disability Wales has called for an “urgent review” of the Welsh government’s policy and investigations into the differences between how local authorities are applying it, which she said showed “the further development of a postcode lottery”.

She added: “We remain concerned that funding will be absorbed by social services budgets and not be directed to those who need it: disabled people with high support requirements.”

Davies said the Welsh government’s comments showed that “they simply refuse to see the evidence that is staring them in the face”.

He said: “Yet again the Welsh government seems to think of former ILF recipients as a privileged bunch.

This is not the case at all, as we are disabled people with high care and support needs who were guaranteed a lifetime of adequate support under the old ILF system.

They do not deserve to be made to feel like a hindrance by the Welsh government.”

He said the conclusions that can be drawn from the freedom of information responses were “very worrying indeed” and show “a shocking lack of consistency between local authorities, the development of a ‘postcode lottery’, the lack of an adequate complaints procedure for former ILF recipients and an alarming lack of security, or guarantees, for the future”. 

Davies is determined to persuade the Welsh government to keep the current system, which allows former ILF-recipients some security by receiving funding from three different “pots”: WILG, local authorities and their own personal contributions.

He said: “The responses reflect why we started the campaign three years ago and give weight to our belief that the tripartite system of care needs to be maintained.

Disabled people with high care and support needs simply cannot rely on cash-strapped local authorities to provide the levels of care that they need. 

One of my biggest concerns is that even the local authorities who have increased a majority of care packages cannot guarantee that these packages will remain at the same levels in future years.

It is a concern that these generous increases may only be put in place for a year, while the local authorities sharpen their axes for further cuts once the campaign is over.” 

He added: “The Welsh government now need to listen to the voices that have supported our campaign – assembly members, MPs, Disability Labour, Jeremy Corbyn, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, celebrities such as Ken Loach and most importantly their own members who passed a motion calling on them to #SaveWILG at the Welsh Labour conference in April 2018.” 

*The Welsh government press office was unable to confirm by 1pm today that this means that their support hours have been reduced

1 November 2018

 

 

DaDaFest promises ‘edgy and disruptive’ festival highlighting years of attacks on rights

The artistic director of DaDaFest has promised that the theme for this month’s international disability arts festival will help shine a light on years of attacks on disabled people’s human rights.

Ruth Gould also spoke out this week against the failure of the national media to recognise the biennial festival, which two years ago attracted more than 360,000 visitors, and an arts sector that has grown increasingly safe and “corporate”.

She promised that DaDaFest, believed to be the world’s largest disability and Deaf arts festival, was offering a programme that was “ground-breaking, new and risky… edgy and disruptive”, with a theme – “Passing: What’s your legacy?” – that focuses on “life’s journey”.

Gould said she was “fed up” with the lack of attention given to DaDaFest in the mainstream media and suggested that this reflected wider attitudes to disabled people.

She said: “These attitudes need confronting and the aim for this year’s festival is to help shine a light on issues that affect how disabled people are viewed by others, usually in a negative way, that leads to a misunderstanding of the truth of the lived experience of disability.

We must challenge and highlight the inequalities, especially in the form of draconian assessments such as personal independence payment and the huge amount of funding cuts, and help support disabled people’s independence and value their contributions in society.”

Her anger is fuelled by increasing despair at the impact of years of assaults on disability rights, she said, and listed a string of examples.

Friends of hers are afraid to be admitted to hospital because they fear a “do not resuscitate” order will be placed above their bed.

She remembers a disabled artist and activist who performed at the first DaDaFest in 2001 and who died five years ago as a result of social care cuts and associated lack of care.

Some disabled people have to be assessed to decide if they will be allowed to keep their babies, she said, while many young disabled people never receive the sex education they need because they are “deemed incapable of relationships and desiring of sexual intimacy”.

She said: “I know Deaf people who are too afraid to go out as they are afraid of the abuse and lack of support to help them understand what is being said.

I have witnessed cuts to our adult services, our children’s services and our NHS while many of our user-led disability charities have lost funds and now cease to exist.”

Gould said she despairs that this country – as the NHS in England rolls out a new non-invasive pre-natal test to detect Down’s syndrome – could soon become like Iceland, where there has reportedly not been a baby with Down’s syndrome born for more than six years.

Gould said she was “sceptical, angry and very afraid for our future, indeed our very existence”.

She added: “I am sad that arts funding is pushing our sector into safe, corporate business practices that are all about ticket sales and playing it to ‘one size fits all’ – mediocrity is threatening to rule.”

But she promised that this month’s DaDaFest would show that “arts and social justice together make great art”.

The festival begins today (1 November) and lasts until 8 December across the Liverpool city region.

Artists will explore the concepts of ageing, death and the changing nature of our bodies.

The festival will also commemorate the end of the First World War as “a key moment for modern recognition of disability as a social construct”.

Among those featuring in this year’s line-up will be comedians Francesca Martinez and Laurence Clark, theatre-maker and comedian Jess Thom – with her performance of Samuel Beckett’s Not I – Stop Gap Dance Company, artists Simon McKeown, Faith Bebbington, Jonathan Griffith and Martin O’Brien, and multi-instrumentalist Sarah Fisher.

The programme includes more than 50 exhibitions, performances, talks, and workshops, featuring established and new talent.

1 November 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 14:25
Oct 252018
 

Autistic woman ‘left sick and broken’ by two-year universal credit delay

An autistic woman says she has been left without vital financial support – and life-saving medication – for nearly two years because she cannot cope with the face-to-face interview she must undergo to complete her universal credit claim.

Claire*, who lives in the Manchester area, does not have enough money to pay for the medicine she needs because the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is refusing to complete her claim, 22 months after she applied for universal credit.

Because of her complex health conditions, including the severe anxiety she experiences following a serious physical assault, she cannot cope with a face-to-face assessment.

For that reason, Disability News Service (DNS) has been unable to speak to her about her case and confirm every detail, but it has seen paperwork from a DWP civil servant responding to a complaint about the failure to complete her claim.

It is just the latest case that appears to demonstrate the deep-rooted flaws built into universal credit, which was supposed to simplify the benefits system, but instead has driven tens of thousands into poverty.

Claire has multiple sclerosis and has had three heart attacks, and has been told she could have a fatal heart attack at any moment due to unstable angina, while she also has a number of other significant health conditions, including depression, asthma, diabetes, Charles Bonnet syndrome and severe misophonia (extreme sensitivity to certain sounds).

She told DNS, in a statement sent through her cousin, Rachel*: “I have worked all my life until I got MS; I have never felt so worthless as the DWP have made me feel.

I often want to harm myself because I can’t cope with the stress and anxiety.

The DWP have brought me to my knees and every time I try to get up they push me down again. I am very tired; sick and broken.”

DNS has seen two letters from DWP responding to a complaint about her case.

One of the letters includes an explanation from a DWP correspondence manager as to why she has to undergo an “identity check”.

The letter says: “I would like to reassure you that the evidence of identity check is something that only has to be completed at the start of the Universal Credit claim.

Although the visiting officer will endeavour to ensure the interview is not unnecessarily stressful and is completely as quickly as possible, you can ask for someone to be with you for support.

As soon as we can satisfy the evidence of identity requirements we will be able to process and pay your Universal Credit claim.

Please accept my apologies for our delay in the meantime.”

But Rachel said: “She is frightened of everyone. She cannot cope with that kind of interaction, either at home or office-based. Any stress could be fatal.

She has attempted to harm herself because of the traumatic situation the DWP have put her under.

To leave her this long without welfare is a disgrace. It is unacceptable and cruel. It is amazing she isn’t dead.”

Rachel says her cousin is only surviving financially through receipt of disability living allowance of £450 a month, and avoids having to pay rent by house-sitting for a friend – although she pays some housing costs – but she cannot afford the life-saving heart medication she needs, as well as medicine for asthma and diabetes.

She also cannot afford to fix her broken wheelchair, and so is unable to leave the house.

DWP’s press office insisted originally that it would only comment on her case if DNS provided evidence that Claire was happy for the department to share details of her case, with a press officer saying: “We won’t be responding to this story unless we have received consent that is clearly from [Claire].”

After the press office rejected an email she forwarded via DNS as insufficient evidence, Claire wrote a letter giving her permission and sent it via her cousin to DWP’s offices in Westminster by recorded delivery.

But after receiving the letter, another DWP press officer said: “Thanks for getting in touch. Yes we’ve received the letter but won’t be commenting on this case.”

DNS has lodged a complaint with the DWP press office about its behaviour.

But a DWP adviser shown details about the case by DNS said: “This appears to be a very frustrating case and will have no doubt been discussed by colleagues who work in universal credit. 

It is somewhat unfathomable that this claimant is seriously ill and whilst she is fully entitled to claim universal credit, can’t physically get paid due to a very archaic rule meaning she has to attend an interview despite having a number of very serious illnesses. 

It should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds that universal credit will soon, if not already, be compelling various people to attend these interviews, be they fit to work, ill or coming to the end of their lives due to their medical conditions. 

This is no way to run a welfare system in 21st century Britain.”

Last month, DNS reported that there have been four secret reports since April 2016 into the deaths of universal credit claimants that have been linked to DWP activity.

And last week, Labour and SNP MPs lined up in parliament to describe the negative impact of universal credit on disabled people and other constituents.

One MP described in last week’s debate how the mother of a young man receiving mental health crisis treatment was told that unless her son signed his universal credit “claimant commitment” he would have to apply for jobs from his hospital bed, or face being sanctioned.

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

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

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

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

*Not her real name

25 October 2018

 

 

Disability inequality is widening and risks becoming ‘entrenched’, says EHRC

Disabled people are becoming increasingly excluded in many areas of their lives and are in danger of becoming “trapped in disadvantage”, a major report by the equality and human rights watchdog has concluded.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says the inequality faced by disabled people is at risk of becoming “entrenched for generations to come” and has today (Thursday) called on the government to adopt “an acute focus on improving life in Britain for disabled people”.

More than a third of disabled people (36.8 per cent) experience “severe material deprivation*”, says the report, nearly three times that of non-disabled people.

It concludes: “The gaps between disabled people and non-disabled people are widening in many areas and disabled people are frequently falling behind other groups.”

Is Britain Fairer? has evaluated progress on equality and human rights across Britain over the last three years, covering education, health, living standards, justice and personal security, work, and participation in politics and public and community life.

The report concludes that disabled people are more likely to live in poverty than non-disabled people, are at greater risk of homelessness, and are among those worst effected by the social security reforms introduced by successive Conservative-led governments since 2010.

The report adds: “Those who can’t work rely on an increasingly restricted welfare regime that is projected to lower their living standards even further.

They also face poorer health and lack of access to suitable housing.

Safety is another major concern, as fewer disabled people have confidence that the criminal justice system is effective.

Without the fundamental building blocks of good education, an adequate standard of living, and being safe and healthy, disabled people are often unable to participate fully in society.”

The report makes it clear that disabled people are “not enjoying the progress experienced by other groups”.

It adds: “Their right to an inclusive education is not being fulfilled – in fact, the proportion of disabled children at special rather than mainstream schools has increased in England and Wales – and they are more likely to be excluded from school.”

This disadvantage continues in later life, the report says.

It points out that an EHRC inquiry which reported in May into the accessible housing crisis found that disabled people across Britain were “demoralised and frustrated by the housing system, reporting a severe shortage of accessible houses across all tenures”.

Social care provision is “limited by funding shortfalls”, the report adds, with parliamentary inquiries concluding that many councils in England “have reduced the care available to the minimum required”.

The report also says that the life expectancy of people with learning difficulties is 14 years shorter (for men) and 18 years shorter (for women) than the general population, because of healthcare-related issues.

Among its many recommendations, the report calls on the government to: set out steps that will ensure disabled children have better access to mainstream education; impose new requirements to ensure new homes are built to stricter accessibility standards; and promote the accessibility of the justice system.

*“Severe material deprivation” is measured by the percentage of people surveyed who say they cannot afford four out of nine essential items

25 October 2018

 

 

Welsh government’s ‘ludicrous’ failure on independent living framework

The Welsh government has been criticised for a “ludicrous” and “insulting” failure to address the adult social care funding crisis in a new draft framework on independent living.

Action on Disability, its new draft framework and action plan, was put out to consultation this week, and aims to “develop and improve access to help, advice and services for disabled people in Wales”.

The plan will eventually replace the Welsh government’s 2013 framework for action on independent living and follows a series of meetings and engagement events with disabled people, disability organisations and other stakeholders.

The report says that this public engagement process saw concerns raised about “cuts to social care provision” which had led to “lower allocations” of direct payments, leaving disabled people “increasingly isolated, and the impacts to their wellbeing compromised”.

But despite these concerns, the action plan refers only to previous strategies on services for visually-impaired people, Deaf and autistic people and those with learning difficulties, and fails to include any measures to address the cuts to support and the social care funding crisis.

This contrasts with its 2013 framework, which included lengthy sections on access to social care, direct payments and personalised support.

Of 44 actions supposedly aimed at improving the right to independent living in the new action plan, not one of them explicitly addresses the need to improve the overall access to care and support, although it does promise a review of the aids and adaptations system that supports disabled and older people to live independently in their own homes.

Instead, the action plan covers areas including disability employment, higher education – including a planned review of policy on disabled students’ allowance – public appointments, and access to public transport.

There is also no mention of social care in the section describing the Welsh government’s “commitments” on independent living, even though it promises to “work for continuous improvement” on how it fulfils its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The failure of the action plan to suggest any measures to address the funding crisis and cuts to support suggests the Welsh government is in breach of the convention’s article 19, which says that governments signed up to UNCRPD should take “effective and appropriate measures” to enable disabled people to live in the community with “full inclusion and participation”.

There is also no mention in the document of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), and the Welsh government’s decision to close its interim Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme, which it has been running as a stopgap with UK government transition funding since ILF closed in June 2015.

Because of the WILG closure, Welsh local authorities will be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients by 31 March 2019.

Nathan Lee Davies, who is leading the campaign to persuade the Welsh government to overturn its decision to scrap WILG, said the failure to address social care in the action plan was “ludicrous” and “insulting”.

He said: “They seem like a load of ostriches burying their heads in the sand. It’s just really worrying.

I am disillusioned but far from surprised. It just seems like they are copying what the Tories have done in Westminster, with the same devaluing of disabled people.”

He suggested that the Welsh Labour government had simply published a “flimsy” framework document in order to “placate the UN, and to be able to say, ‘look, we are doing something to support disabled people’”.

He said that ministers – by closing the WILG – were “washing their hands” of responsibility for social care and handing it to local councils, which could not afford to meet their responsibilities promised under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, which Davies said should be renamed the Pie in the Sky Act.

Responding to criticisms of the document, a Welsh government official said: “Our ‘Action on Disability: the Right to Independent Living’ framework is a high-level plan covering a wide range of issues in line with our national strategy, Prosperity for All.

A number of the actions in this draft action plan relate to social care; nevertheless we are open to suggestions on how the plan could be strengthened.

We encourage everyone to contribute to the consultation – which we launched this week – to influence our future work to support disabled people as best we can.”

Davies has contrasted the actions of the Welsh Labour government with those of the UK Labour party, whose leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has publicly supported his campaign to save the WILG, as did members of Welsh Labour at their annual conference earlier this year.

Davies is determined to persuade the Welsh government to keep the current system, which allows former ILF-recipients some security by receiving funding from three different “pots”: WILG, local authorities and their own personal contributions.

He said that this “tripartite” system had provided the support he needed that led to him being recognised with an honorary degree by Wrexham Glyndwr University for his services to disability rights.

He has also been involved with Wrexham football club, Disabled People Against Cuts, and the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales, as well as writing a new book, and running his campaign and a blog.

He also worked with Disability Arts Cymru on a #SaveWILG exhibition of visual art and poetry earlier this year.

Davies is now waiting to hear what will happen to his support package when WILG closes.

25 October 2018

 

 

Suicide prevention minister could be ‘legally compromised’ over silence on ESA risk

Disabled activists say the new “minister for suicide prevention” could leave herself “legally compromised” by her continuing failure to promise to warn local agencies that claimants of out-of-work disability benefits face a higher risk of taking their own lives.

Jackie Doyle-Price refused again this week to pledge to take the simple step of highlighting that claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) are a high-risk group, in the government’s suicide prevention strategy for England.

Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last December how NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey showed more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives, compared with less than seven per cent of adults who were not claiming ESA.

Doyle-Price, the minister for mental health, had “minister for suicide prevention” added to her job title earlier this month, with prime minister Theresa May claiming she wanted to “prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives”.

But the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) this week described the appointment of a suicide prevention minister as a “cynical PR stunt”.

Denise McKenna, an MHRN co-founder, said: “The NHS Digital statistic of 43 per cent of ESA claimants having attempted suicide at some point in their lives should surely prompt the minister for suicide prevention to take immediate and decisive action to protect ESA claimants.

Should she fail to do everything in her power to reduce risk to people on ESA, any future suicides would undoubtedly leave her legally compromised.

Over and above her legal responsibilities, a minister for suicide prevention has a moral responsibility to speak up in support of those most at risk of suicide and to challenge the causes of suicide.

MHRN will be demanding justice should Jackie Doyle-Smith fail in her duty of care.”   

She added: “We have known for a long time that changes to the social security system are deeply implicated in people attempting and thinking of suicide and there is overwhelming evidence that there have been completed suicides due to the often-insurmountable obstacles placed in the way of disabled people accessing benefits.

We also know that the Tories will do everything in their power to prevent the role they have played in past suicides from being open to public scrutiny, mainly by the suppression of information and by outright denial.”

Dr Jay Watts, the activist and consultant clinical psychologist who first highlighted the NHS Digital figures, said it was “crucial” that ESA claimants were seen as a high-risk group in the national suicide prevention strategy, which “influences local policy and the likelihood of targeted help to reduce suicide risk”.

She said the omission of these figures was “nothing less than a political decision putting lives at risk”.

She said: “Specific attempts to reduce risk for specific populations, such as the excellent work to reduce male suicide that has begun to reverse the epidemic of deaths, have demonstrable results at a population level.”

Watts said that if Doyle-Price ignored the evidence on ESA claimants, she would “not only neglect the responsibility of her office, but maintain the structural violence against claimants manifest in the brutality of the benefits regime so unkind that it is the final straw for so many”.

But she said that Doyle-Price could instead “insist on a kinder, fairer benefits system to make life more bearable for claimants” and “start that process today by explicitly acknowledging the elevated level of risk for ESA claimants which would have a huge roll-down effect on suicide awareness”.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle Campaign, said that Doyle-Price’s “silence speaks volumes”.

He called on her to “accept that people in that cohort are at extremely high risk and propose measures to address that situation.

To fail to do so is to be complicit in the avoidable deaths of disabled people.”

He added: “She is complicit in the ongoing epidemic of suicide affecting disabled people as a direct result of the government’s disability assessment regimes, as a result of government policy.”

A spokeswoman for Doyle-Price refused for the second week to say whether the minister would include the ESA figures in an updated suicide prevention strategy and alert local agencies that ESA claimants are a high-risk group.

Instead she referred to the existing strategy, which briefly mentions Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) guidance for dealing with claimants of ESA and other benefits who may be at risk of suicide or self-harm, its work on training staff, and the department’s processes for learning from DWP-linked suicides.

She said: “The Cross-Government Suicide Prevention Strategy recognises that people who are in receipt of benefits, including ESA, may be experiencing difficult circumstances such as financial, employment and housing insecurity, physical disability or other long-term condition which may place additional strains on their mental health and wellbeing. 

That is why the strategy and the Suicide Prevention Planning guidance issued to local authorities highlight that frontline staff in job centres should be trained in suicide prevention awareness and job centre staff and benefits advisers should be involved in multi-agency groups implementing local suicide prevention plans.”

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

25 October 2018

 

 

Ministers ‘failing to uphold a UN disability convention they do not understand’

Government ministers are failing to uphold the rights of disabled people, ignoring the need to engage with disabled people’s organisations, and do not understand the UN’s disability convention, according to a new report.

The highly-critical report has been compiled by disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) across the UK and submitted to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.

It analyses how the UK and devolved governments have responded to key parts of last year’s highly-critical report by the committee on the UK’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The new report includes some criticism of the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales – and raises concerns about the impact of the continuing political impasse over the Northern Ireland Executive – but most of its concerns are directed at the UK government in Westminster.

The UK government, the report says, is responsible for “continuing retrogression and re-institutionalisation” of disabled people and continues to disagree with the UN committee’s findings and recommendations.

It adds: “We have concerns that the UNCRPD is not embedded within government and is poorly understood at all levels, including ministerial.”

It provides the example of international development secretary Penny Mordaunt, who appeared to try to redefine the meaning of inclusive education at the government’s Global Disability Summit in July, telling the international audience that inclusive education meant “that everyone has an education and it is done in a way to reach their full potential”.

The report says that many of the concerns raised by DPOs last year in their evidence to the UN committee remained a “significant problem”, with disabled people still subject to “tightening eligibility” for support, the removal and sanctioning of benefits and the bedroom tax.

It also raises concerns about the continuing rollout of universal credit (UC) and says DPOs are “gravely concerned” at the failure to assess the access needs of disabled people due to be moved onto UC and the lack of the necessary data to monitor its impact.

It warns that the social care funding crisis has led to the removal of further essential independent living support for disabled people and the closure of community services for people with mental distress, while increasing social care charges are leaving thousands of disabled people in debt or choosing to pull out of receiving support completely.

The DPOs also point to the chronic shortage of accessible housing in England, with new housing for disabled people often limited to segregated supported housing complexes.

And the report says that the number of disabled children being forced into special schools is rising, while budget cuts are reducing the quality of inclusive education, and the number of disabled pupils left without any educational placement at all has risen, as has the number of disabled pupils excluded from school.

Among the DPOs that contributed to the report are the Alliance for Inclusive Education, Disability Action (Northern Ireland), Disabled People Against Cuts, Disability Wales, Inclusion London, Inclusion Scotland, the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance and Sisters of Frida.

They make 22 recommendations of their own that are aimed at the UK government, including calling for: a new legal right to independent living; the abolition of charging for social care; an end to the practice of placing disabled children and young people in long-stay hospitals; and a new social security system that is based on “an accurate analysis of need” and is “consistent with a human rights approach to disability”.

There are also four recommendations for the Welsh government – including a call to incorporate the UNCRPD into Welsh law – and six for the Scottish government, including the need for a national strategy on the provision of accessible housing.

The DPOs conclude that examples of “progressive” policy-making have been restricted to the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales, although the two executives are “not without room for improvement” themselves.

There is also repeated criticism in the report of the UK government’s “inadequate engagement” with DPOs and its failure to recognize the importance of consulting disabled people.

The report says that “engagement with non-user-led charities is continuously prioritised over engagement with DPOs”, while requests by DPOs to meet ministers “are frequently turned down”.

It also says that engagement with the UK government is “undermined by an increasing lack of trust”, and warns that “without trust, consultation and engagement cannot take place in ‘good faith’”.

The report does welcome one measure taken by the UK government, the increased funding for disabled facilities grants, although it warns that “delays in processing applications can still be a problem for under-resourced local authorities”.

This week’s report follows the publication of the government’s own progress report last month.

The DPO report is highly critical of the government’s progress report, accusing it of effectively ignoring many of the UN committee’s recommendations.

One of the recommendations ignored, it says, was to carry out a cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of its cuts and reforms on disabled people, with the UK government continuing to insist that this is not possible.

It points out that the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published a CIA earlier this year, while the Greater London Assembly is conducting its own CIA for London “using the same methodology as the EHRC”, and both the Scottish and Welsh governments are “exploring carrying out their own”.

There is also frustration at the government’s failure to follow up the UN committee’s recommendation that it should devise a “comprehensive” plan aimed at the “deinstitutionalisation” of disabled people, in “close collaboration” with DPOs.

25 October 2018

 

 

Anger over government’s plastic straw ban plan

Disabled people have reacted angrily to government plans to introduce a ban on the sale or distribution of plastic straws, which could come into effect as early as next year.

The ban, which would also outlaw drink stirrers and cotton buds, is being introduced to address the “devastation” caused to rivers and seas by single-use plastic items, and is due to come into force at some point between October 2019 and October 2020.

But most paper and plant-based alternatives to plastic straws are not flexible or suitable for hot drinks, and therefore increase the risk of choking when they become soggy or start to disintegrate.

And metal straws – another frequently-suggested alternative – can be dangerous for people with certain conditions, while reusable plastic straws cause hygiene problems.

The government’s plans are subject to a consultation, which was launched this week and ends on 3 December.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said it would consult on how to ensure that “those who need straws for medical and accessibility reasons can still use them” and are not “disadvantaged or stigmatised” by a ban.

It said that pharmacies would still be able to sell plastic straws, while restaurants, pubs and bars “will be able to stock some straws for use on request”.

But it appears to have failed to carry out an equality impact assessment of its plans, which would make it harder to prove that it has not breached its duties as a public sector body under the Equality Act.

Launching the consultation, environment secretary Michael Gove said: “I commend retailers, bars and restaurants that have already committed to removing plastic straws and stirrers. But we recognise we need to do more.”

There was widespread anger at his plans among disabled people, including those who rely on the use of plastic straws as an independent living aid.

Jamie Szymkowiak, founder of the Scottish-based, user-led campaign One in Five, said the government was “doomed to fail the needs of disabled people” unless it took a different approach.

He said: “Outright bans, of any product, often adversely affect marginalised groups and in the case of plastic straws it is the right for disabled people to live independently that is under threat.

This debate too often puts disabled people against environmentalists without acknowledging the best solution.

Instead of pursuing an outright ban, the government should work with disabled people’s organisations and environmentalists to push manufacturers to produce an environmentally-friendly straw that meets the needs of everyone.”

He encouraged disabled people to take part in the consultation, and added: “Disabled people shouldn’t have to ask or provide a medical certificate before accessing a straw and passing yet another cost on to disabled people is unacceptable if you believe that society bears a responsibility to make the world more accessible for everyone.

Gove should listen to disabled people: push manufactures and suppliers to produce an environmentally-friendly straw instead of pushing us further into isolation.”

There was anger and frustration at the government’s plans on social media, with disabled TV presenter and producer, and YouTube star, Jessica Kellgren-Fozard, even live-tweeting her completion of the DEFRA consultation document.

Asked whether she agreed with the proposed October 2019 date for a ban, she wrote: “There should be no ban. Some disabled people will be forced to illegally import plastic straws just to keep drinking. Do you really want that????”

She also retweeted a video, first released in August, which explains exactly why disabled people need plastic straws.

In her video, she says she needs to drink up to 10 litres of liquids a day because of her health condition, all of it through straws, because her wrists are weak and her hands shake.

She says in the video: “We genuinely want to help the planet, but we can’t sacrifice ourselves in the process.

The majority of us have taken up reusable straws and it is only in a pinch that we need the disposable ones… but it is a need.

Yes, it would be better if someone invented something that functions as well as a bendable plastic straw and has little environmental impact, but until that happens we can’t just outright ban something people need.”

Another disabled campaigner, David Gillon, said on Twitter that the “totally predictable” results of the government’s proposals would be that restaurants and pubs would stop stocking all plastic straws, while disabled people would “face harassment for using them in public” and “have to pay through the nose for buying them in a pharmacy”.

He was also angry that the department’s impact assessment stated that disabled people “will not be affected by the ban”, even though its “risks” section warns that “inadequate provision of exemptions” would “impose welfare costs on those who rely on using plastic straws in their everyday lives”.

Research carried out for DEFRA by Resource Futures Ltd has warned that an outright ban could have “disutility impacts” for disabled people “because they would not be able to consume drinks outdoors without having to bring their own costlier (at point of purchase) reusable straws”.

It also warned of “media/legal” challenges if “certain enabling products” were not exempted from the ban.

A DEFRA spokeswoman had failed to confirm by noon today (Thursday) that the department had not carried out an equality impact assessment of its plans.

But she said in a statement: “We recognise there are instances where using plastic straws is necessary for medical reasons which is why our consultation seeks views on how to ensure those who need straws can still access them.

For example, pharmacies will still be able to supply plastic straws and restaurants, pubs and bars will be able to stock some straws for use on request.

The government will work closely with stakeholders to ensure these exemptions are crafted exactly right.”

25 October 2018

 

 

Police and CPS face questions on failure to treat ‘utterly barbaric’ offences as hate crime

The police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are facing questions over why an “utterly barbaric” campaign of violence and abuse directed at a disabled mum and daughter was not treated as disability hate crime.

A family of four were jailed last week for a total of more than 46 years for imprisoning the two disabled women and treating them as slaves as they forced them to work in two flats in Coventry.

The mother and daughter were repeatedly beaten, and had to eat dried pasta, while the younger woman was so hungry she resorted to eating scraps of food from a bin.

The court heard that the family knew the two women had learning difficulties but treated them in an “utterly barbaric manner”, preventing them accessing their own home, and restricting their access to food, heating and their ability to clean themselves.

But despite the apparent evidence of disability-related hostility, the offences were not treated in court as hate crimes, so no attempt was made to seek stricter sentences under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act.

The court had heard details of a campaign of bullying, intimidation and repeated violent assaults, led by ring-leader Jean Kelly.

One of the two women was made to clean and carry out other chores at Kelly’s flat, while the other had to work at Kelly’s daughter’s flat in another part of Coventry. They were each paid one cigarette a day for their work.

Jean Kelly was found guilty of two charges under the Modern Slavery Act (MSA), as well as offences of grievous bodily harm (GBH), actual bodily harm and conspiracy to falsely imprison, after a trial at Warwick Crown Court in September.

Three other members of her family also received prison sentences, with her husband Michael jailed for 14 years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and GBH, their daughter Anastasia Hitt jailed for four-and-a-half years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and an MSA conspiracy charge, and her partner Ian Healy jailed for 14 years for conspiracy to falsely imprison and GBH.

Media reports state that Jean Kelly, herself a wheelchair-user, assaulted one of the two women with a baseball bat she called “Bob”.

She had previously been jailed for 18 months for pouring boiling water on her step-brother, who also had learning difficulties.

The judge reportedly told Jean Kelly that her behaviour “demonstrates a sustained interest by you in taking advantage of those with learning difficulties and maltreating them”, while he said the other three members of the family had sought to exploit the pair for their own gain.

But despite his comments, a CPS spokesman confirmed this week that prosecutors had not treated the offences as disability hate crimes.

He said: “The CPS takes prosecution of all kinds of hate crime, including against disabled people, extremely seriously.

In order to prosecute a case as a hate crime there must be evidence the criminal actions are motivated by hostility towards the protected characteristic.

In this instance prosecutors felt the facts did not allow the case to be prosecuted as a hate crime but very serious charges were brought against the defendants who ultimately received prison sentences totalling almost 50 years.

Our thoughts are with the victims in this case and we hope the outcome offers them some comfort as they rebuild their lives.”

West Midlands police refused this week to confirm its officers’ apparent failure to treat the offences as disability hate crimes, and why they failed to do so.

The latest failure of the criminal justice system to recognise disability hate crime came just days after the CPS annual hate crime report showed that the number of disability hate crime cases referred to prosecutors by police forces in England and Wales plunged last year by nearly a quarter.

The number of disability hate crime convictions also slumped, from 800 in 2016-17 to 564 in 2017-18 (a drop of 29.5 per cent).

Earlier this month, a report by two watchdogs found that the work of police officers on more than half of the disability hate crime investigations examined across six sample police forces – not including West Midlands – had been found to be “unacceptable”.

25 October 2018

 

 

Duncan Smith refuses to apologise over ‘exploitative’ comments

The architect of many of the government’s most unpopular and flawed welfare reforms, Iain Duncan Smith, has refused to apologise for “exploitative” comments he made about disabled people and employment.

The former work and pensions secretary is reported to have told a fringe meeting at this month’s Conservative party conference in Birmingham that employers should take on disabled staff because “they often work longer hours”.

He also said that disabled employees “forgo quite a lot of holiday because they love the whole idea of being in work”, and “once they’re in work they actually produce more than most able-bodied people around them”.

The comments, reported in last week’s Private Eye, caused anger among disabled campaigners, who described them as exploitative, patronising and “appalling”.

Duncan Smith, the architect of the new universal credit working-age benefit system, and of many of the coalition government’s most unpopular disability benefit reforms, was addressing a fringe meeting organised by the Centre for Social Justice, the think tank he founded after his enforced resignation as Conservative leader in 2003.

He was joined on the panel by the current work and pensions secretary Esther McVey, a close ally, to examine the question of whether the Conservative party was “making work pay”.

Contacted by Disability News Service this week, a spokeswoman for Duncan Smith said that he was not going to comment on his remarks.

Asked to confirm that that meant he would not comment and would not apologise, she said: “That’s right.”

Carole Ford, a member of the steering group of the WOW campaign, said: “As IDS is refusing to apologise he clearly sees nothing wrong with his views.

This effectively means that disabled workers are ripe for exploitation.”

She had earlier said on Twitter: “Did no one question the quality of the employers who allow their disabled staff not to take their full holiday allowance?”

Among the many others who criticised the comments on social media was the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Leeds, which said: “There is frankly nothing about IDS’s comment that isn’t patronising, othering, and accepting of the idea that it’s okay to exploit disabled people’s ‘gratitude’ for having a job. It’s really appalling. We could go on.”

And Ellen Clifford, a member of the national steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, said on Twitter: “I have heard many charities say the same.

They also say we are more ‘loyal’ and stay in same jobs longer – basically celebrating the outcomes of workplace discrimination and internalised oppression.”

25 October 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:48
Oct 252018
 

 


Concluding observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Alternative report from civil society

Content

  1. Introduction

  2. Overview of key concerns

  3. Response to UKG’s Follow Up report to the Concluding Observations

  4. Civil society follow up information on recommendations made by the Committee in paragraph 114 of its inquiry report

  5. Civil society follow up information on Concluding Observation recommendations

  6. UK DDPO Recommendations

Annex A: Global Disability Summit Charter for Change

Annex B: Inclusion London briefing on Mental Capacity (Amendment) bill

Annex C: Examples of engagement with DDPOs in specific policy areas that demonstrate room for improvement

Annex D: Independent Review of the Mental Health Act

Annex E: List of DDPOs who contributed to this report

  1. Abbreviations

AtW Access to Work

CCG Clinical Commissioning Group

DfID Department for International Development

DFG Disabled Facilities Grant

DHSC Department for Health and Social Care

DLA Disability Living Allowance

DPTAC Disabled People’s Transport Advisory Committee

DWP Department for Work and Pensions

EHCP Education Health and Care Plan

EHRC Equality and Human Rights Commission (part of the UK Independent Mechanism)

ESA Employment and Support Allowance

ICESCR International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

ILF Independent Living Fund

IMG Inter-ministerial Group

IMNI Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland

INGOs International Non-Governmental Organisations

JSA Job Seekers Allowance

LA Local Authority

LHS Local Housing Strategy

MR Mandatory Reconsideration

NAO National Audit Office

NI Northern Ireland

ONS Office for National Statistics

PIP Personal Independence Payment

PSED Public Sector Equality Duty

SDGs Sustainable Development Goals

SEND Special Educational Needs and Disability

SG Support Group

TUC Trade Union Congress

UC Universal Credit

UKG UK Government

UKIM UK Independent Mechanism

UNCRPD United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

WCA Work Capability Assessment

WILG Welsh Independent Living Grant

WG Welsh Government

WRAG Work Related Activity Group

A.Introduction

  1. Deaf and Disabled People’s Organisations (DDPOs)1 in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland2 have compiled the following civil society report to provide information on the implementation of Articles 19, 27 and 28 by the UK Government (UKG) over the past 12 months. This correlates with the Committee’s request at paragraph 73 of the Concluding Observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, adopted on 29 August 2017, that, within 12 months, the UKG should provide information in writing on measures to implement the Committee’s recommendations as set forth in paragraphs 45, 57, and 59.

  2. Readers are reminded of the devolution framework in the UK. Where the UK Government is referred to, this can mean all 4 nations in the UK where the issue is a “reserved” one or to Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). Actions of the UKG on devolved issues will only be applicable in England and separate action may be taken by governments in other nations.

B. Overview of key concerns

  1. Below is a summary of shared key concerns that cut across the three articles within focus:

    • Continuing retrogression and re-institutionalisation of Disabled people.

    • Inadequate strategic implementation and monitoring of the UNCRPD.

    • Failure by UKG to recognise the UN Disability Committee findings and recommendations.

    • Inadequate specific engagement with DDPOs and, in some countries, a lack of trust between DDPOs and Government.

    • Escalation of future needs due to adverse impacts of current policy.

    • The lack of any protection for Disabled people in Northern Ireland. This is especially in light of the fact there is no devolved government there and lack of adequate oversight by the UKG.

  1. Continuing retrogression and re-institutionalisation of Disabled people.

4.1 Disabled people’s socio-economic rights under Articles 19, 27 and 28 have been further retrogressed since the adoption of the Concluding Observations in August 2017. The crisis in funding for social care has led to further removals of essential daily independent living support for Disabled people and the closure of community services for people with mental distress, in particular DDPOs and services led by people from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) and other marginalised groups. LAs responsible for the delivery of support services are struggling to meet demand; in England LAs are starting to go bankrupt, putting at risk their ability to meet even minimum legal duties3. Social care charges are increasing,4 leaving thousands in debt or choosing to pull out of receiving support altogether.5 Just under half of social care users surveyed by In Control said they had frequently, or occasionally, used money intended for other household costs such as food and heating to pay for care and support.6

4.2 People with learning difficulties, autism and mental distress continue to be sent many miles away from their communities to receive treatment.7 There is wide concern that the Mental Capacity (amendment) Bill (England only) currently passing through Parliament will weaken protections and the duty to consider the best interests of the person in authorising deprivation of liberty.8 There is a chronic shortage of accessible housing with around 365,000 Disabled people in England with unmet housing needs9, yet plans for new housing too often limit inclusion of Disabled people’s needs to segregated “supported housing” complexes.10

4.3 Placements in segregated education are rising11 while cuts to “special educational needs and disability” (SEND) budgets are reducing the quality of inclusive education and availability of education for Disabled pupils12. The number of Disabled pupils left without any educational placement was also found to have risen: official statistics showed 4,152 Disabled pupils were without a place in 2017 in England, up from 776 in 201013. School exclusions have sharply risen with rates of exclusion five times higher for SEND pupils than non-Disabled pupils.14

4.4 Increasing barriers to employment are adversely impacting on Deaf and Disabled people’s right to work. The government cites a figure of 600,000 additional Disabled people in work since 201015, yet official figures also show greater numbers of Disabled people leaving rather than entering employment.16 The UK has a persistent disability employment gap which is currently over 30 percentage points.17 The disability pay gap is another major inequality18 Research published in 2017 highlighted a number of policy and operational issues with the Access to Work (AtW) disability employment scheme that are not yet addressed.19 The recent government announcement of increased funding for supported businesses through AtW is viewed by DDPOs as retrogressive measure, representing investment in segregated employment at the expense of supporting mainstream employment opportunities.20

4.5 Under Article 28, many of the same issues on which we reported previously remain a significant problem, with Disabled people still subject to tightening eligibility, the removal21 and sanctioning of benefits22, and the spare room subsidy removal (“bedroom tax”).23 In addition to this we now have the roll out of Universal Credit (UC), which is set to affect 8 million households, of which 58% will have a Disabled member.24 Adverse impacts experienced by UC claimants have led to widespread concern expressed by civil society organisations25, local authorities26, the media and general public.27 In a report published in June 2018 the NAO called on the DWP to “ensure that operational performance and costs improve sustainably” before further roll out progresses28.

4.6 Welfare conditionality is a core principle at the heart of UC. Mounting evidence demonstrates the harm that conditionality and sanctions cause as well as counter-productive impacts for Disabled people, in fact moving them further from the labour market.29 DDPOs are extremely concerned about widespread application of job search requirements without reasonable adjustments leading to sanctioning practices that discriminate against Deaf and Disabled claimants. New research from Activity Alliance and the Dwarf Sports Association UK shows that fear of losing benefits is preventing Disabled people from taking part in physical activity and accessing the associated health and social benefits. More than a third (34%) of those surveyed reported that they or someone they know has had benefits sanctioned or removed as a result of being physically active.30

4.7 At the State Examination in Geneva last year, particular concern was raised by the Committee that Disabled people in Northern Ireland (NI) have less legislative protection than in any other part of the UK. It was also acknowledged that the situation for Disabled people in NI is particularly egregious. In the 13 months that have followed, the situation in NI has, unfortunately, got even worse. This is because of a lack of devolved government and a lack of engagement by the Westminster Government with NI DDPOs.

4.8 These retrogressions are happening within a context of restricted access to justice due to legal aid changes. Disabled people are overrepresented users of civil legal aid. As a result the reduction in scope of legal aid enacted through LASPO31 and significant drop in publicly funded cases has had a disproportionate impact.32 The changes prevent many Disabled people who use adult social care services from recourse to challenging cuts to their support. Advice and law centres have closed33 and it is increasingly difficult to find solicitors to take on cases – even where Disabled people are still eligible for legal aid. The changes have also dramatically reduced support available to navigate the welfare system. Figures published by the Ministry of Justice in October 2017 showed that just 440 claimants were given legal aid assistance in welfare benefits cases in 2016-2017, down from 83,000 in 2012-13. This represents a drop of 99.5%.34 Meanwhile we continue to wait for the government’s LASPO post-implementation review.35

4.9 Examples of progressive policy-making and attempts to uphold Disabled people’s rights under the UNCRPD continue to be limited to the devolved nations, where the implementation of mitigating measures and strategic frameworks for the realisation of Disabled people’s rights, although not without room for improvement,36 represent a progressive break from the approaches taken by Westminster government. Nevertheless, DDPOs in Scotland remain unsure of how the Scottish Government and LAs intend to tackle the crisis in social care given low staff morale, incompatibility between competitive tendering requirements and choice and control for Disabled people, provision of the new living wage and the ever increasing demand for services with a growing older population. None of this can be realistically achieved within current funding levels and DDPOs continue to call for a national debate on the future funding of social care, and subsequent action.

4.10 This is particularly true in NI, where unfortunately there has been no devolved government since January 2017. Positive steps were taken by the Northern Ireland Executive in respect of the rights of Disabled people, and commitments were made in respect of implementing the provision of the Equality Act 2010 to NI as they pertain to disability, especially around indirect discrimination of Disabled people in NI. Unfortunately, the collapse of the NI Executive has resulted in this work not being implemented. The UKG has, disappointingly, not stepped up to ensure this important work is delivered for disabled people in NI.

4.11 While some gains have been made for British and Irish Sign Language users in the UK, these have only been made in the context of damaging Government cuts (in relation to the AtW cap)37, inconsistent provision across the devolved nations (in the case of the Scottish BSL National Plans), and short-term fixes (in the case of reinstating the Access to Elected Office Fund only for a 12 month period in England).38 We agree with the noting of the BSL (Scotland) Act as having overseen some key improvements within Scotland by placing a duty on Scottish Ministers to promote the use and understanding of BSL. We would welcome similar legislation across the UK

.

  1. Inadequate understanding, strategic implementation and monitoring of UNCRPD

5.1 We have concerns that the UNCRPD is not embedded within government and is poorly understood at all levels, including ministerial. In response to criticisms of the impact of their domestic policy on Disabled people in the UK over the past year, UKG ministers have consistently cited the worse conditions of Disabled people in poorer countries.39 This represents a misunderstanding of the UNCRPD duty on the progressive realisation of socio-economic and cultural rights: the situation in the UK is of such concern because it constitutes serious, systematic retrogression, not because the starting point is further behind other countries. As discussed below at paragraph 6, the UKG either does not understand, or is not willing, to accept its duty under the UNCRPD, as outlined in detail in the General Comment on participation adopted by the Committee this year, to consult and engage with UK DDPOs in the implementation and monitoring of the Convention.40

5.2 A concept of “independent living” that does not align with Article 19 is prevalent in policy-making and practice at all levels and there is a failure to understand the inherent link between inclusive education and Article 19 rights.41 Social care is increasingly focused on how to reduce awards and restrict eligibility. In this context “independent living” is taken to mean free from use of state-funded support.42 DDPOs are concerned by what appeared to be an attempt by a minister to redefine the concept of inclusive education to include segregated education at the “Global Disability Summit” held in London in July 2018,43 while a new parliamentary inquiry into the educational support provided for Disabled children and young people launched in April 2018 failed to mention inclusive education.44 The UKG has no plans to remove its reservation and interpretative declaration on Article 24 of the UNCRPD.

5.3 There has been no direct engagement with Disabled people in NI by the Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland (IMNI) in the past year. IMNI held an information session to which some Disabled people were invited, and held another roundtable meeting to update people on the work they had done. Both events took place in Belfast which, due to lack of transport access, made the meeting inaccessible to many.

5.4 Disability data collection and analysis is inadequate for major policy areas including social care and Universal Credit. Recommendations of a recent Parliamentary review on the future of social care45 echoed a mounting call for a body tasked with modelling the amount of funding needed by social care in the future and ensuring funding keeps pace with need.46 The fact that no such modelling currently exists represents a serious omission at the heart of the growing crisis in social care. DDPOs are gravely concerned at a failure to assess the access needs of Deaf and Disabled people due to be moved onto UC and a lack of disaggregated data to monitor impact. There has evidently been no central data modelling47 carried out to estimate numbers of people who will require special assistance to access the digital by default service and on which to base decisions on staffing numbers and retention of physical premises.48 Data on sanctions applied under Universal Credit is not disaggregated by disability.49

5.5 There is a lack of disaggregated data in NI, especially in respect of Disabled people. Without this the State party cannot fulfil its obligations under the UNCRPD. In the absence of devolved government in NI, the UKG must ensure mechanisms are put in place in NI to ensure data is adequately and accurately captured.

5.6 There is currently no framework for strategic implementation or monitoring of the UNCRPD within England or across the UK as whole. In May 2018, a new Interdepartmental Ministerial Group (IMG) on disability and society was announced.50 Cross-government working to implement, embed and monitor the UNCRPD is urgently needed to ensure that policy development and monitoring reflect the needs, interests and rights of Deaf and Disabled people, particularly since the work of the government Office for Disability Issues has been curtailed since 2010.51 Without a strategic approach to disability equality, the government is struggling to meet its own targets on, for example, getting one million more Disabled people into employment.52 However, we are disappointed that DDPOs were not consulted about the establishment of the IMG and we have no information about what it will do.53 We note that since devolution of responsibility for meeting the independent living support needs of Disabled people to the devolved administrations and English LAs/CCGs, there has been a failure to monitor how Disabled people’s rights under Article 19 are being met or to promote implementation of the UNCRPD among LAs and CCGs.54

5.7 There are no mechanisms in place in NI to ensure that the UNCRPD is implemented across departments of the NI Executive in the event devolution is restored, and no engagement from UKG in general or the Secretary of State in particular in the absence of devolution in NI to ensure this occurs. Also, there are no effective means of monitoring the UNCRPD in NI, from IMNI or the devolved NI Executive or, in its absence, the Westminster Government.

5.8 In Scotland, there is not yet a process to implement and follow up on the Concluding Observations recommendations.55 Whilst Scotland has a measurable strategic framework – Fairer Scotland for Disabled People – which was conceived to demonstrate the Scottish Government’s approach to implementing the UNCRPD, it is clear that it does not cover all aspects of the Convention. It is not clear what measures and practices of monitoring evaluation are being applied to the framework, nor what financial resources are applied to it and whether these are sufficient. Scottish DDPOs expected to be working closely with Scottish Government to monitor and evaluate the actions in the framework however, little has been provided by way of opportunities or a structured framework for monitoring and evaluation and less so one that involves Disabled people and DDPOs, or indeed the Scottish-based Independent Mechanism organisations. To date Inclusion Scotland has only been afforded “observer” status on the Delivery Plan Programme Board. In addition, the majority of the actions in the framework will not evidentially lead to the transformational change that is required.56

5.9 In Wales there is not yet a process to implement and follow up on the Concluding Observations recommendations partly because the Welsh Government has undertaken a review of its Framework for Action on Independent Living. The revised draft framework should be published during Autumn 2018 and is expected to set out how the Welsh Government will be taking forward the principles of the Convention, taking account of the UN Committee’s recommendations where appropriate.

  1. Failure by the UKG to recognise the UN Disability Committee findings and recommendations.

6.1 The UKG continues to disagree with both the findings of the UN Disability Committee’s special investigation into the UK under the optional protocol57 and the committee’s Concluding Observations from the examination of the UK under the UNCRPD that took place last year. There appears to have been no attempt to initiate a process for implementation and follow up of the recommendations,58 certainly not in consultation with DDPOs, and neither report has been disseminated in line with the committee’s recommendations.59 In June the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work said in Parliament, “we were disappointed that the UN representatives who came to the UK simply did not take on board the evidence that the Government gave them and did not acknowledge the full range of support.”60 She spoke about the need to “rebut the allegations levelled against us” and suggested an ideological difference with the approach taken by the committee, saying: “We firmly believe that a disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life, including in society or in the workplace.” This indicates a belief by the UKG that the provision of state funded support and a social security safety net holds Disabled people back. The position that support must be withdrawn or that withdrawal must be threatened in order to empower people is un-evidenced,61 alongside overwhelming evidence of the harms and human rights retrogressions that this approach causes.

6.2 While continuing to dismiss the expertise and approach of the UN Disability Committee, the UK has, through its Department for International Development and in partnership with International Disability Alliance, initiated a global disability “Charter for Change”, in which it is encouraging State parties to sign (see Annex B). We are concerned that this represents an attempt to bypass the authority of the Committee. It was launched at a global summit on disability co-hosted by the UK which throughout the past year has been used by UKG ministers to deflect criticism from their record on disability within the UK.62

6.3 The attitude of the UKG towards the UNCRPD and the Committee is not anomalous but is consistent with their general approach towards international socio-economic rights. There continues to be no response from the UKG to the Concluding Observations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from June 201663 and in March 2018 at the launch of the new EHRC report detailing Britain’s progress in implementing the ICESCR.64 65

  1. Inadequate engagement with DDPOs and lack of trust.

7.1 There has been no engagement at UKG level with DDPOs concerning implementation of the UNCRPD. This is despite the recommendation of the UN Disability Committee at paragraph 74 of the Concluding Observations66 and despite attempts to initiate dialogue by UK DDPOs:

  • On 28 February 2018 UK DDPOs wrote jointly67 to the Prime Minister to draw attention to the lack of response from the UKG to the Concluding Observations six months on, to request a meeting to discuss how the Government was implementing the UNCRPD committee’s recommendations and how the Government planned to work with organisations led by Deaf and Disabled people in monitoring and implementing the Convention. (see also 4.5)

  • On 25 April 2018 we received a response from the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Health and Work explaining that the letter had been passed to her and invited us to meet with her.

  • On 6 June 2018 we replied welcoming the positive response and asked for a date to meet.

  • On 10 July 2018 we received a reply from the Minister explaining that due to “ongoing diary commitments” she would not be able to meet with us.

  • A few English DDPOs have instead, since the beginning of August, received individual invitations to meet Karen Jochelson, head of the Office for Disability Issues, to discuss implementation of the UNCRPD.68

7.2 There continues to be inadequate engagement by the UKG with DDPOs in ongoing policy planning and implementation and a general failure to recognise the importance of consulting organisations of Disabled people.69 Annex D details three examples relevant to Articles 19 and 28 where engagement with Disabled people and our organisations has been either refused or marginalised by the UKG in key areas of policy. Engagement with non user-led charities is continuously prioritised over engagement with DDPOs.70None of the bodies set up to engage with Deaf and Disabled people and our organisations as part of the UK government’s disability strategy has met for over a year.71 DDPOs remain concerned at the lack of engagement over withdrawal from the European Union with DDPOs in relation to design, planning and delivery at UK, national and local levels.72 In the past 12 months, Deaf campaigners have worked with MPs to champion a number of causes within Parliament, however, each time responding ministers have concluded that none of the recommendations made will be taken up, and that no meaningful movement in these areas will be made.73

7.3 The tendency for the UKG to dismiss concerns and criticism is not limited to engagement with Deaf and Disabled people. It extends to any critical voices including those of non user-led charities, Parliamentary committees, academics and public bodies responsible for scrutiny. The NAO report into the roll out of UC concluded that the DWP is led to “often dismiss evidence of claimants’ difficulties and hardship instead of working with [local and national organisations that represent and support benefit claimants] to establish an evidence base for what is actually happening. The result has been a dialogue of claim and counter-claim and gives the unhelpful impression of a Department that is unsympathetic to claimants.”74

7.4 With the UKG not listening, in order to mitigate harmful policy impacts, DDPOs and disability charities are left with no recourse other than to initiate national campaigns and support legal challenges against the government.75 Legal action has led to some significant policy reversals and mitigations, most notably since last year concerning the PIP regulation changes,76 Access to Work cap,77 UC transitional protections,78 and ESA back-payments for 70,000 Disabled people.79 However, the scope of what can be addressed in the courts is limited to points of law and the outcomes of challenges are mixed, with the high court reluctant to “micro manage” government policy.80 It is not a satisfactory way to shape policy.81

7.5 Engagement with the UKG is undermined by an increasing lack of trust. In July 2018 the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was forced to apologise for misleading Parliament about the NAO report82 which she incorrectly claimed called for a faster roll out. The NAO took the highly unusual step of publicly writing to her to list the inaccurate statements made. Lack of trust was also a key conclusion of an inquiry by the Work and Pensions Committee into the benefits assessment process for ESA and PIP.83 Without trust, consultation and engagement cannot take place in “good faith”, as called for under the UNCRPD, “[a]cting truthfully and fairly with each other…based on transparency, mutual respect, meaningful dialogue and a sincere desire to reach a collective agreement.84

7.6 Scottish Government are generally active engagers via consultations and seminars, the latter sometimes delivered via DDPO networks. DDPOs were and are involved in a number of project specific and thematic advisory, working and strategic planning groups, and requests for meetings with Ministers can sometimes be met. There is particularly good practice relating to adult social care and social security.85 Scottish Government have funded the DDPO Inclusion Scotland to develop a Policy Panel and a Core Group of people using Adult Social Care, which will have a direct link to the minister as a front-line for policymakers to develop policies and strategy in co-production with Disabled people and other groups who use social care support, which will launch in October 2018, and its impact noted.86 Throughout the Social Security Bill’s (now Act) progress through Parliament DDPOs had several meetings with the Social Security Minister, the Bill Team and other senior officials in Government. Many of the changes requested by Disabled people were taken into account and amendments made to the original legislation.87 In many ways the Social Security Directorate has provided a model for engagement. However, engagement opportunities are not without issue including lack of accessibility and inclusion,88 mixed engagement alongside non-DDPO disability organisations and the lack of auspicious listening and evidence of influence or change from DDPO contributions. The delivery of inclusive and accessible engagement by different policy directorates is variable at best.89 There has been some success in the recognition of BSL and related barriers but there is little to no progress in the wider access and engagement in English, for example, for deafened and Hard of Hearing people.

7.7 Welsh Government are generally active engagers via consultations and stakeholder groups, the latter sometimes delivered via DDPO networks. For example, DDPOs are involved in the Disability Equality Forum, the National Independent Living Steering Group and the Transport Accessibility Panel amongst others. The WG grant fund Disability Wales (DW) to engage with Disabled people and DDPOs to help inform national policy. However, following a 50% cut in the grant, DW’s capacity is limited to fully support engagement across the wide range of policy issues affecting Disabled people. The experience of meaningful and inclusive engagement varies according to the directorate however sometimes the involvement of DDPOs in advisory groups can be used to justify unpopular decisions as with the transfer of the Welsh Independent Living Grant to LAs.

  1. Escalation of future needs due to adverse impacts of current policy.

8.1 The continuation and acceleration of policies with a detrimental impact on Deaf and Disabled people are causing an escalation of need which will lead to even greater problems for the future. Excluding Deaf and Disabled pupils from educational opportunities and increasing educational segregation90 will lead to greater inequality for future generations while inadequate responses to dramatically rising incidences of mental distress experienced by children and young people will have serious consequences both for those individuals and society as a whole.91 Cuts to independent living support and preventative services has a knock on effect on crisis and NHS services.92 Evidence of reduced strain on NHS services through the introduction of free personal care for Disabled people over the age of 65 in Scotland has led plans to extend eligibility to under 65s from April 2019 onwards93, however there are no proposals to replicate this offer in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, the cost of inadequate support provision is being keenly felt with cuts to social care linked to 120,000 excess deaths in England in a study published in November 2017.94 UKG continues to deny causal links between suicides and welfare reform but evidence continues to suggest otherwise. Figures analysed in December 2017 showed that the proportion of people claiming the main out-of-work disability benefit who have attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2014, after the introduction of ESA and a new assessment process,95 while the latest individual tragedies to hit the news this month96 are those of Mark Barber, a Disabled man who took his own life after learning his benefits would be cut by £20 per week,97 and Steven Arnold, who killed himself after having fallen into financial difficulty following a workplace accident that left him unable to continue in his self-employment.98

C. Response to the UKG’s Follow Up report to the Concluding Observations

  1. We are pleased that UKG has provided a follow up to the Concluding Observations that addresses both the Concluding Observation recommendations and those of the inquiry report in 2016.

  2. We are disappointed that the Follow Up report does not more thoroughly address the substantive issues highlighted in the recommendations and effectively ignores a significant number of them, in particular those recommending a cumulative impact assessment, ensuring that legislation and policy measures align with the UNCRPD and a human rights model of disability and implementation of a media campaign to promote Disabled people on benefits as full rights holders. There is a tendency in the report to list legislative and policy measures and spend without providing evidence of effectiveness or impact.99

  3. The Follow Up report and covering letter provide further evidence in support of points made above concerning a failure to properly understand either the Convention or a human rights approach to disability100 and poor engagement with DDPOs.101 The reflections on progress in the cover letter include areas where DDPOs also have concerns about retrogression such as housing, mental health services, employment, participation in society and transport. Many of these are set out in the sections above and below. In relation to the specific education measures listed, whilst we welcome the level for literacy and numeracy being adjusted for Disabled apprentices, this does not go far enough,102 and UKG is investing much more heavily in segregated supported internships rather than supported apprenticeships particularly for people with learning difficulties. There is no evidence of strategy to tackle the factors that give rise to people with learning difficulties and autism ending up institutions in the first place.103 The stated aim of the UKG to improve access to transport for Disabled People is not supported by the experience of passengers over recent years. For example:

  • A trial of “turn-up-and-go” access to rail has failed to report in 3 years and train operating companies still insist on 24 hours’ notice to guarantee assistance;104

  • The use of Driver Only Operation has increased against advice from DPTAC, the UK Government’s own advisory body;105

  • Access for All funding designated to improving step free access to stations across the country has been repeatedly cut, most recently by nearly £50m;106

  • The UK Government has failed to act on a Supreme Court judgement and DPTAC advice to legislate to enshrine in law the right for wheelchair users to have priority access to buses.107

  1. There has been no meaningful engagement by DFID with UK DDPOs since the Government signed and ratified the CRPD. UK DDPOs have been excluded by DFID in favour of disability charities and INGOs. The £29m Disability Inclusive Development (DID) programme is subject to an investigation by the EHRC to see whether the procurement breaches the Equality Act. DFID have failed to fund any UK DDPO over the last decade to engage in development cooperation.108

D. Civil society follow up information on recommendations made by the Committee in paragraph 114 of its inquiry report

114a) Conduct a cumulative impact assessment of the measures adopted since 2010, referred to in the present report, on the rights to independent living and to be included in the community, social protection and employment of persons with disabilities. The State party should ensure that such assessment is rights-based and meaningfully involves persons with disabilities and their representative organizations;

  1. We are disappointed that the UKG continues to maintain a position that it cannot do this. The EHRC commissioned its own cumulative impact assessment (CIA) of welfare and tax reforms since 2010 published in March 2018.109 The Greater London Assembly is in the process of conducting a CIA for London using the same methodology as the EHRC and both Scottish and Welsh governments are exploring carrying out their own. In 2014 the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed that they think it is possible to do a CIA of tax and benefit changes for the Disabled population as a whole.110 In response to the work by the EHRC, the UKG has said it is not possible to carry out a gendered analysis capable of modelling intra-household distribution of income, however this does not prevent a cumulative impact assessment on disability (or race). The UKG Follow Up report says that full impacts on households of government spending cannot be reliably modelled, however the EHRC has tackled this by carrying out two separate but linked assessments for welfare and tax reforms (as published) and public spending (due to be published in October 2018).

114b) Ensure that any intended measure of the welfare reform is rights-based, upholds the human rights model of disability and does not disproportionately and/or adversely affect the rights of persons with disabilities to independent living, an adequate standard of living and employment. To prevent adverse consequences, the States party should carry out human rights-based cumulative impact assessments of the whole range of intended measures that would have an impact on the rights of persons with disabilities;

  1. The Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) is too weak as a safeguard to preventing disproportionate impacts. Public sector bodies are required to prove only that they have considered the disproportionate impacts of policy measures that they can lawfully implement so long as this due regard is evidenced. It also relies on individuals personally affected by the policy measures to initiate legal proceedings. For individuals who often lack support and resources this is a very hard ask. In December 2017, the High Court ruled that changes to the PIP regulations brought in by the UKG were “blatantly discriminatory”.111 Had it not been for the one individual – a person who experiences psychological distress – who took the case, those regulation changes would still be in place. UK DDPOs would like an extension to the three month time limit for initiating JR proceedings.

  2. We do not believe there has been an equality impact assessment for UC that looks at the impact of digital by default design on Deaf and Disabled people or sufficient data modelling to ascertain numbers of Deaf and Disabled benefit claimants likely to require reasonable adjustments.

114c) Ensure that: any intended legislation and/or policy measure respects the core elements of the rights analysed in the present report; persons with disabilities retain their autonomy, choice and control over their place of residence and with whom they live; they receive appropriate and individualized support, including through personal assistance, and have access to community-based services on an equal basis with others; they have access to security social schemes that ensure income protection, including in relation to the extra cost of disability, that is compatible with an adequate standard of living and ensure their full inclusion and participation in society; and they have access and are supported in gaining employment in the open labour market on an equal basis with others;

  1. Limited understanding of the UNCRPD as discussed in paragraphs 4.1 – 4.2 above, combined with a failure to consistently accept a human rights approach to disability, continues to leave a number of areas of government policy divergent from the principles of the UNCRPD. Both the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill currently going through Parliament and the independent review of the Mental Health Act, also currently in process, are inconsistent with UNCRPD Articles 12, 14, 15, and 17 as well as 19.112 Approaches to work, health and disability and welfare reform continue to be underpinned by a biopsychosocial model of disability that is incompatible with a social model/human rights approach to disability.

  2. The UNCRPD is not enshrined in domestic legislation and a recent high court judgment concerning the Care Act 2014 warned that “great care must be taken where international treaties such as the UNCRPD set out broad and basic principles as being determinative tools for the interpretation of a concrete measure such as a UK statute”.113

  3. The UKG is not monitoring the implementation of the Care Act 2014 and neither is it promoting or monitoring implementation of UNCRPD Article 19 by Las, Clinical Commisioning Groups or devolved administrations. Many LAs and CCGs do not understand or accept their obligations under the UNCRPD. Adoption of policies at LA/CCG level such as caps on support to live in the community, removing choice and control through pre-payment cards114, and the adoption of “strength-based” approaches115, are inconsistent with Article 19 rights. Where LAs/CCGs implement policy in breach of the Care Act it is left to individual Disabled people, civil society organisations and the UK Independent Mechanism to initiate challenges in order to protect Disabled people’s rights.116

  4. The decision to cut the amount paid to Disabled people in the ESA WRAG from 1 April 2017117 was made in spite of evidence indicating how the reduction would lead to impoverishment. The many DDPOs, charities and other civil society organisations who responded to the consultation on the government green paper “Improving Lives” were disappointed that the government chose not to reverse this measure.118 In July 2018, members of the cross-party House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee questioned the Secretary of State over witness evidence they had received showing the cuts were “increasing stress and poverty for people in the WRAG” and had provided a “disincentive to get to work”.119

  5. The UKG Follow Up report refers to both Enhanced and Severe Disability Premiums. Neither exist for new claimants under UC. This means £41.10 less a week than existing claimants on legacy benefits or transitional protections.120

  6. AtW provides support to enable Deaf and Disabled people to get into and stay in work. It does not support us to gain employment on an equal basis with others. The DWP made clear in a recent judicial review hearing concerning the AtW cap that the aim of the scheme is not to support Deaf and Disabled people with career progression or to access more senior professions and roles where, due to a person’s impairment, this requires costs in excess of what the Department considers reasonable to pay towards support for one individual. This restricts choice of employment depending upon impairment and level of support need.121

114d) Ensure that public budgets take into account the rights of persons with disabilities, that sufficient budget allocations are made available to cover extra costs associated with living with a disability and that appropriate mitigation measures, with appropriate budget allocations, are in place for persons with disabilities affected by austerity measures;

  1. Public budgets continue to be set by the UKG according to overriding principles of reducing or restricting public spending rather than according to need.

  2. The serious situation concerning local authority funding has been outlined in paragraph 4.3. The social care budget shortfall is gravely impacting on Disabled people’s right to independent living. The UKG is failing to heed warnings from council leaders, the social care sector and Disabled people about the unsustainability of the social care situation.122 A raft of recent reports have called for an independent body tasked with modelling the amount of funding required to adequately meet social care need. The UKG has provided extra resources to adult social care,123 however, as the scale of continuing cuts demonstrate, however, together with the fragile state of the care market,124 there is not yet a sustainable, long-term solution to the funding of adult social care. This funding position is also having a major adverse impact on the survival of DDPOs.

  3. The UKG Follow Up report references how 30% of current PIP recipients receive the highest level of support compared to 15% for DLA. A note of caution is needed for such a direct comparison since PIP has only two rates (standard and enhanced) whereas DLA had three (higher, middle and lower).125 It should also be noted that large numbers of Disabled people who previously received DLA are being turned down for PIP. Figures published in June 2018 show that since the rollout of PIP, 381,640 Disabled people who previously received DLA have been turned down for the new benefit upon reassessment.126 Loss of DLA/PIP has a wider adverse impact for individuals who then lose other benefits to which DLA/PIP acts as a passport.127 The transitional support package for claimants who lose access to a Motability vehicle after reassessment for PIP is not sufficient compensation for the loss of access to the outside world that this entails. According to Motability figures published in April 2017, 51,000 people had vehicles taken away since 2013.128

  4. When benefits are reduced, mitigation measures are often only implemented for existing claimants but not for new ones, for example the removal of EDP and SDP under UC and the ESA WRAG cut.

114e) Introduce all adjustments necessary to make all information, communications, administrative and legal procedures in relation to social security entitlements, independent living schemes and employment/unemployment-related support services fully accessible to all persons with disabilities;

  1. There has been an attempt by the DWP to improve communications with Disabled people129 and the DWP Accessible Taskforce as referenced in the UKG follow up report is one forum that seeks to engage directly with DDPOs. Sadly the meetings of the taskforce have themselves, on occasion, not been accessible to Deaf stakeholders.130 There was a promising pilot of accessible application formats for AtW and the introduction of a new video relay service to enable British Sign Language (BSL) users to access government services. However, on the ground we continue to see AtW advisors ignoring the preferred communication formats of individual customers. The DWP has also been subject to legal action for failing to communicate in accessible formats with benefit claimants.131

  2. Local authorities are not implementing accessibility standards for communicating with adult social service users.132

  3. The UC application process is inaccessible to many Deaf and Disabled people.133 This will adversely affect millions of people required to apply for UC under through its roll out. Research by the Government Digital Service (GDS)134, showed that 30% of UC claimants cannot set up the online account that UC uses.135 Although there are options available such as face to face visits for claimants, we are deeply concerned about rationing of special assistance measures and that no data modelling has been conducted to ascertain the level of need for these reasonable adjustments. Meanwhile closures of Jobcentres and staff redundancies have been made on the basis that a digital by default service will require less staffing and physical premises. No steps have been taken to provide materials in British or Irish Sign Language.

Scotland

  1. We do not yet have evidence of impact of the BSL (Scotland) Act. It is unclear how it will be rolled out because there are not enough BSL interpreters in Scotland to meet demand. There is also an issue around advocacy in that there is a presumption that advocates (for example in justice or social security) can reasonably be a hearing person. Scottish DDPOs raised this issue and the need for advocates to be BSL users. In the UKG follow up report cover letter, language and communication are referred to as “cross cutting enablers” rather than understood as rights.

114f) Ensure access to justice, by providing appropriate legal advice and support, including through reasonable and procedural accommodation for persons with disabilities seeking redress and reparation for the alleged violation of their rights, as covered in the present report;

  1. See paragraph 3.7 for evidence of adverse impacts blocking Disabled people’s access to justice directly resulting from legal aid cuts. There is lack of awareness of the Civil Legal Advice service, including in Wales, resulting in low take up of legal aid. The EHRC has recently launched an inquiry into this matter.

  2. The claim made in the Follow Up report that mandatory reconsideration (MR) has not restricted access to the appeals process (for welfare benefit decisions) is un-evidenced. Anecdotally we hear from many Disabled people who cannot cope with going through both MR and an appeal and so give up, despite the impoverishment it results in. It is welcome that the government has now publicly dropped its target for at least 80% of MR decisions to uphold the original decision but the majority of MR decisions continue to do this in contrast to the majority of appeal decisions which over-turn it.136 A claimant has much less chance of access to redress with MR than with an appeal, to which MR acts as a barrier. Between 2013 and September 2017 557,000 people who were turned down at MR failed to then go on to appeal.137 We do not know how many of those would have won.

114g) Actively consult and engage with persons with disabilities through their representative organizations and give due consideration to their views in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of any legislation, policy or programme action related to the rights addressed in the present report;

  1. UK DDPOs continue to experience very poor engagement and are frequently turned down to meet UK government Ministers. See paragraphs 6.1 – 6.2 and Annex D for more detail.

  2. We look forward to hearing more from the UKG about their plans to reinvigorate stakeholder engagement as cited in their follow up report.

  3. The Follow Up report mentions two specific consultation exercises:

  • Improving Lives”. See comments at paragraph 14.

  • The consultation for widening eligibility for the Blue Badge scheme took place only after a legal challenge by a Disabled person.138

114 h) Take appropriate measures to combat any negative and discriminatory stereotypes or prejudice against persons with disabilities in public and the media, including that dependency on benefits is in itself a disincentive of employment; implement broad mass media campaigns, in consultation with organizations representing persons with disabilities, particularly those affected by the welfare reform, to promote them as full rights holders, in accordance with the Convention; and adopt measures to address complaints of harassment and hate crime by persons with disabilities, promptly investigate those allegations, hold the perpetrators accountable and provide fair and appropriate compensation to victims;

  1. We are pleased that UKG will be refreshing its Hate Crime Action Plan and we hope to see it improved through stakeholder engagement.

  2. Initiatives to tackle disability hate crime continue to be undermined by an unwillingness by the UKG to undertake positive messaging concerning Disabled benefit claimants as equal citizens and full rights holders. There has been considerable investment in recent years in awareness raising programmes to remove mental health stigma, and yet, recent research by Scope has found that 48% of Disabled people have worried about talking about their impairment or condition with an employer.139

  3. The House of Commons Petitions Committee recently undertook an inquiry into online abuse against Disabled people due to the scale of this problem. Much of the abuse, both online and in the street, experienced by Disabled people refers to benefit scrounging/cheats.140 Disabled people were extremely concerned by an online poll conducted by YouGov in March 2018 which asked members of the public whether they thought “those who receive more money from welfare benefits than they pay in taxes” should be allowed to vote in General Elections. It is unknown who commissioned the poll.141

114i) Ensure that, in the implementation of legislation, policies and programmes, special attention is paid to persons with disabilities living with a low income or in poverty and persons with disabilities at higher risk of exclusion, such as persons with intellectual, psychosocial or multiple disabilities and women, children and older persons with disabilities. Those measures should be put in place within contributive and non-contributive regimes;

  1. EHRC research into the cumulative impact of welfare reform and tax measures since 2010 found that negative impacts are particularly large for households with more Disabled members, and individuals with higher support needs.142

114j) Set up a mechanism and a system of human rights-based indicators to permanently monitor the impact of the different policies and programmes relating to the access and enjoyment by persons with disabilities of the right to social protection and an adequate standard of living, the right to live independently and be included in the community and the right to work, in close consultation with persons with disabilities and their representative organizations in all regions and countries that constitute the State party;

  1. UK DDPOs continue to call for a cross-departmental, cross-government strategic mechanism to monitor and implement the UNCRPD. The mechanisms listed in the UKG offer insufficient protection against retrogression of Disabled people’s rights.

114k) Respond to the present report within the time limit prescribed under the Optional Protocol, widely disseminate the Committee’s findings and recommendations and provide appropriate follow-up to the recommendations of the present report, including during the consideration of the State party’s initial report before the Committee.

  1. The report has never been disseminated.

E. Civil society follow up information on Concluding Observation recommendations

45a) Recognise the right to living independently and being included in the community as a subjective right and the enforceability of all its elements and adopt rights-based policies, regulations and guidelines for ensuring implementation;

  1. We have concerns that the UKG does not fully understand the right to independent living. The Follow Up report describes provisions within the Care Act 2014 with no evidence of its effectiveness. The experience of DDPOs is that it has failed to protect Disabled people’s Article 19 rights with no credible attempt by the UKG to address retrogression in this area. Currently 1.2 million older and Disabled people are unable to get the care they need, almost double the number since 2010.143 Despite more adults needing care, the number of receiving it has fallen by at least a quarter between 2009/10 and 2013/14 alone.144 A survey by the Care and Support Alliance found that due to a lack of social care over a third of respondents cannot leave their homes and over a quarter have been unable to maintain basics like washing, dressing and/or visiting the toilet. The Follow Up report refers to the Mental Capacity Act but not the amendment bill going through Parliament which in its current form will significantly weaken existing protections.145

Scotland

  1. There is so far scant evidence of any positive impact on the amount of care or Disabled people’s assertion of the quality of care as a result of health and social care integration. LAs continue to raise charges and to lower the threshold for charging.

  2. Scottish DDPOs have consistently called for and now welcome revised Local Housing Strategy (LHS) guidance. However, it is only one part of a much larger picture. There seems to be no room for manoeuvre with the Housing Minister on a national 10% target for wheelchair accessible housing across all tenures.146 We are concerned that without a national minimum target and, with inconsistencies between LA targets, private builders will pick and choose which LA to build in. LAs accept that the data that they use to create their LHS is insufficient and they are not clear on the need for accessible housing. It is also clear that whilst a local target may be set in a LHS (and many LHS make no mention of them), that these targets do not conclusively lead to more accessible housing. More needs to be done to ensure that local targets are met, and that they take account of different property types and all tenures.

Wales

  1. Welsh DDPOs have been involved in a revised Framework for Action on Independent Living through the WG Independent Living Steering Group. It is expected to contain stronger commitments to raising awareness of and implementation of the UNCRDP and positive actions for tackling issues such as the Disability Employment Gap.

  2. The UNCRDP is referenced in the Code but not in the Social Services and Well-being Act itself.147 To make this duty meaningful LAs should develop and provide training and resources to enable them to appropriately implement the UNCRDP when exercising these functions.

45b) Conduct periodic assessments in close consultation with organisations of persons with disabilities to address and prevent the negative effects of the policy reforms through sufficiently funded and appropriate strategies in the area of social support and living independently;

  1. As stated in the UKG Follow Up report, the promised green paper on future funding for social care is now expected in Autumn 2018.148 It will only deal with social care for older people. A parallel work-stream looking at working age adult social care appears poorly thought through with no clear explanation for how this fits with the green paper. Lack of engagement with DDPOs on social care has been widely criticised149 and is evident from our omission in paragraph 17 of the Follow Up report.

Scotland

  1. Regulation has been passed in Scottish Government to effectively extend free personal care to under 65s150 with effect from 01 April 2019. However, the details of how this will be implemented have not yet been published. It should be noted that it is not social care but “personal care” that will be free. This means that for many who currently pay care charges, there may be little or no difference to what they are charged for their care package.

Wales

  1. The WG has set a maximum weekly charge on LA social care of £80 across LAs in Wales. Ministers are exploring the use of tax raising powers to introduce a compulsory insurance scheme to pay for older people’s care.

  2. The WG agreed to extend the time frame for completing assessments for former ILF recipients as not all LAs had made sufficient progress. Following a grassroots campaign against its closure, the WG agreed to the development of a questionnaire to be circulated to WILG recipients to obtain their experiences of the assessment process and whether they feel that their needs will continue to be met once transferred to LA support. The questionnaire was developed and is independently monitored by All Wales Forum for Parents and Carers with support from Disability Wales. Analysis of responses to date indicate that, whilst two thirds are satisfied with the assessment process and their new package, approximately one third is not for various reasons.

45c) Provide adequate and sufficient and earmarked funding to local authorities and administrations, the devolved governments and overseas territories to be able to provide resources allowing persons with disabilities to live independently and be included in the community and to exercise their right to choose their place of residence and where, and with whom to live;

  1. Additional funding from the UKG for social care is insufficient to address the scale of the crisis, as outlined by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services in their 2018 budget survey report.151 In March 2018 the Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that UKG plans for the future of funding for local authorities “risk a growing funding gap for adult social care and conflict with efforts to provide consistent and high-quality care services across the country”.152

  2. Additional funding for Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) is welcome. Investment in DFGs has been shown to be cost effective for councils while meeting Disabled people’s housing needs. Delays in processing applications can still be a problem for under-resourced local authorities.153

Wales

  1. Welsh DDPOs and other organisations are calling for more robust commitments from the WG in the revised independent living framework in tackling the chronic shortage of accessible and adaptable homes in Wales (as evidenced in the EHRC Housing Inquiry Report). Specifically, they are calling for each LA to adopt, develop and implement an Accessible Housing Register (AHR) and for the WG to develop standards and monitor the effectiveness of AHRs.

45d) Set up a comprehensive plan, developed in close collaboration with organisations of persons with disabilities, aimed at deinstitutionalisation of persons with disabilities, and develop community-based independent living schemes through a holistic and crosscutting approach, including education, childcare, transport, housing, employment and social security; and

  1. We welcome any decrease in numbers of Disabled people in long-stay institutions. Funding constraints at local level prevent LAs from developing the range of community-based support services that is needed. We are disappointed that the UKG has not followed up this recommendation to set up a comprehensive deinstitutionalisation plan in close collaboration with DDPOs.

Scotland

  1. The 10 year Mental Health Strategy is in the right direction, but there is no evidence of any impact so far. The issue of substitute decision making has not been tackled and there is considerable evidence that those with mental health issues, particularly children and young people, cannot access appropriate services when they need them. Until the review ends and the consultation process announces what changes will be put in place, we do not know if these actions will result in Disabled people securing their human rights or perhaps even having less rights than previously. In these two processes (Mental Health Act Review and Incapacity Consultation) there have been serious flaws in the way that Disabled people have been involved.154

45e) Allocate sufficient resources to ensure that support services are available, accessible, affordable, acceptable and adaptable sensitive to different living conditions for all persons with disabilities in urban and rural areas.

  1. See paragraph 3.1 for evidence of the adverse impacts of English LAs increasing their charges for social care.155

57a) Develop and decide upon an effective employment policy for persons with disabilities aimed at ensuring decent work for all persons with disabilities, bearing in mind the target of one million jobs for persons with disabilities and envisaged by the State Party, and ensure, equal pay for work of equal value, especially focusing on women with disabilities, persons with psychosocial and/or intellectual disabilities as well as persons with visual impairments, and monitor development;

  1. Official statistics analysed by Scope in September 2017 showed more Disabled people leaving than entering employment.156 The fact of an additional 600,000 Disabled people in employment over the past four years needs to be understood within the context of both a rising population and a rising percentage of the working age population who are Disabled. This percentage rose from 16% in 2012/13 to 19% according to the latest data available from the DWP in May 2018.157 The disability employment gap continues to remain unchanged. Since 2010 the number of Disabled people in self-employment has risen by 244,435.158 Research published in August 2017 showed that more than half of all self-employed people failing to earn a decent living, alongside evidence that two in five of the UK workforce are still in​ ‘bad jobs’.159

  2. DDPOs have extensive and grave concerns regarding approaches promoted by the Work and Health Unit160 that involve psycho-compulsion and are not consistent with a human rights model of disability.161 We do not welcome the doubling of Employment Advisers in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies services which will further undermine effective therapeutic provision for the rising numbers of people with mental health support needs.162

  3. Funding for the Work and Health programme163 represents just one quarter of the annual spending on the work programme which it replaced in March 2017.

Scotland

  1. So far this is output not outcome with no evidence so far. The consultation on public sector targets has not yet reported. Scottish DDPOs are advising on the forthcoming Disability Employment Action Plan via an ‘Expert Advisory Group.’ The difference in principles and values with some organisations which are not DDPOs who are also involved is evident. There is concern that the work will fail to lead to the sea change that is needed but instead to more of the same: employability services which focus on Disabled people’s perceived deficits and little on supporting employers to stop discriminating. This will then fail to address the employment gap. There is no detail of how the £1m to support employers will be designed. DDPOs have proposed a one stop shop, provided by Disabled people with lived experience of what works, but off record indications are that the money will go to existing employability services.

  2. It is welcome that the new Fair Start Scotland scheme is voluntary and non-participation does not affect benefits. However, the 38,000 target is for all participants, it is not solely for Disabled people for whom there is no specific target and includes an offer of supported employment, an internationally recognised ‘place and train’ model enabling Disabled people to learn on the job with support from colleagues and a job coach. This is a good intention but so far it is just an on output and not an outcome. Despite efforts by DDPOs, of the 9 contracts awarded for Fair Start Scotland, they did not include partnerships with DDPOs.164

  3. When EHRC (Scotland) reviewed the PSED in April 2017, they looked at the publication rates for the equal pay statement. For listed authorities with more than 150 staff, April 2017 was the first reporting cycle in which their equal pay statements had to detail occupational segregation grades (vertical) and occupations (horizontal) for disability, gender and race. Less than 50% of listed authorities published any meaningful analysis of occupational segregation information by disability.165

  4. Inclusion Scotland, as a DDPO, runs the Scottish Government’s Internship Programme. It capably demonstrates that Disabled people are best placed to design and deliver support for employment.

  5. We have expectations for Scotland’s the BSL National Plan 2017-2023. Amongst other areas, this should ensure that government funded employment programmes and training opportunities are accessible to BSL users, and the creation of experience panels of Deaf people to test the accessibility of the new social security system.

Wales

  1. Welsh DDPOs and other organisations are calling on the WG to introduce its own version of “Disability Confident” which will be more credible with Disabled people, employers and other stakeholders including active engagement of Disabled people, support and resources to employers to develop inclusive workplaces and independent monitoring.

  2. A Ministerial announcement is expected later in 2018 concerning the WG’s proposed plan and package of measures to reduce the disability employment gap in Wales, which stands at 36% and in some regions is even higher e.g. 50% in Neath and Port Talbot.166

57b) Ensure that reasonable accommodation is provided to all persons with disabilities who require it in the workplace, that regular training on reasonable accommodation is available to employers and employees without disabilities, and that dissuasive and effective sanctions are in place in cases of denial of reasonable accommodation;

  1. Responsibility to challenge breaches of the Equality Act 2010 and the duty to provide reasonable adjustments rests on the individual Deaf or Disabled person who may themselves be unfamiliar with the law. We welcome the inquiry by the Women and Equalities Committee and hope the UKG will respond positively to its recommendations.

57c) Ensure that legal and administrative requirements of the process to assess working capabilities, including the Work Capability Assessment, and those who conduct the assessments are qualified in line with the human rights model of disability, and take into consideration work related as well as other personal circumstances. The State party must ensure adjustments and support necessary to access to work and recognise financial support not subjected to sanctions or job seeking activities;

  1. Both the WCA and the assessment for PIP were purposefully designed not to follow the social model and to align instead with the Waddell and Aylward biopsychosocial model of disability as functional assessments. This was clearly articulated during the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill through Parliament in 2012. Government Minister Lord Freud stated: “our approach is…akin to the biopsychosocial model… It is not, however, a full social model assessment. I accept that. That is something that many noble Lords and disability organisations would like, but I have to point out that it was not our intention to develop it in this way. As a department, we do support the social model.”167 Within the WCA there is continued reliance on forms of communication such as written correspondence and form-filling that are inherently inaccessible for many Deaf sign language users.

  2. The claim made in paragraph 88 of the UKG response that “claimants will not be asked to undertake anything that is unrealistic or could put their health at risk” cannot be substantiated. Evidence points to widespread failures by work coaches to make reasonable adjustments, leading to work earlier this year by the DWP Accessible Taskforce to produce guidelines to relieve what had become an urgent problem. A survey by PCS Union published in February 2018 revealed that nearly three quarters of frontline UC staff believe they have not been sufficiently well trained to do their job properly and feel ill-equipped to “deal with some of the most vulnerable members of society”.168

57d) Withdraw its reservation to article 27 of the Convention; and

  1. We note the review mentioned in the UKG Follow Up report.

57e) Bear in mind the links between article 27 of the Convention and target 8.5 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

  1. UK DDPOs are not currently funded to participate in discussions or work relating to targets to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

59a) Introduce, adopt and implement legislative frameworks to ensure that social protection policies and programmes across the State party secure income levels for all persons with disabilities and their families, by taking into account the additional costs related to disability, and ensuring the possibility of persons with disabilities to exercise their parental responsibilities. The State party must ensure that persons under the new Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group access to full compensation of disability related costs.

  1. The strong links between disability and poverty indicate an insufficiency of social security protection.169 Three quarters of households using foodbanks contain someone with a health condition and/or impairment and one third contain someone with mental health support needs.170 It should be noted that the estimated 54bn spent on benefits to support Disabled people cited in the UKG Follow Up report171 includes spend not directly linked to disability such as housing benefit as well as benefits and compensation paid to Disabled people’s family members including Carer’s Allowance and Industrial Death Benefit.172 Recent analysis also shows that spending increases on disability benefits have not kept up with inflation, representing real terms losses for Disabled people.173

  2. The UKG response states that “UC encourages people into work”. This is misleading. As a recent report from the NAO states: “Both we, and the Department174, doubt it will ever be possible for the Department to measure whether the economic goal of increasing employment has been achieved”.175

  3. The UKG has been resistant to ensuring Disabled people are not financially worse off under UC. Though it is welcome that Disabled people who migrate onto UC through change of circumstance will now receive transitional protection against shortfall between their UC entitlement and their legacy benefit, it should be noted that this was only brought about through a legal challenge taken by two severely Disabled men who had lost £178 a month, leaving them unable to meet many of their basic needs.176 The DWP applied for permission to appeal the High Court ruling which found the men had experienced discrimination and initially attempted to appeal against the court ruling that the two men should be paid damages for their losses.177 New transitional protection guidance that was put out for consultation following the court case suggest paying transitional protection at a flat rate for those migrated onto UC through change of circumstance rather than matching their losses as occurs under managed migration.178

  4. No compensation for loss of income through the ESA WRAG cut has been forthcoming from the UKG.179 The Follow Up report says no families have experienced a cash loss. This is because the cut was not applied to existing claimants. Existing claimants who move into work but then need to go back onto ESA will be affected by the reduced rate and this acts as a disincentive to employment. The report also states the change “did not affect anyone whose ability to work is significantly limited by their health condition”. Given widespread inaccuracies and level of unacceptable standards found in assessments for ESA, this assertion cannot be made.180 Significant numbers of Disabled people wrongly assessed as capable of work related activity and put in the WRAG are subsequently placed in the Support Group (SG) on appeal. Many others cannot face appealing and struggle on.

  5. There are similar concerns regarding the quality and accuracy of PIP assessments.181 See paragraph 19 for comments on PIP rates.

  6. We note that concerns have still not been addressed about the costs of hearing parents of Deaf children to learn British or Irish Sign Language in order to communicate with their children. While civil society organisations are implementing programmes to attempt to address this crisis, without government-led subsidies and grants, the issue cannot be fully addressed. Without support, families are being faced with costs of tens of thousands to acquire a language they can use with their own children.182

Wales

  1. The JRF Report Poverty in Wales 2018 (7 March 2018), found that 39% of Disabled people in Wales are in poverty compared with 22% of non-Disabled people; and that the poverty rate among Disabled people in Wales is the highest in all of the UK.183

  2. It is estimated in Wales that almost a third of DLA claimants were refused PIP amounting to a total loss of £87m.184

59b) Carry out a cumulative impact assessment, with disaggregated data, about the recent and coming reforms on the social protection for persons with disabilities, and in close collaboration with organisations of persons with disabilities define, implement and monitor measures to tackle retrogression in their standard of living and use it as a basis for policy development across the State party; and

  1. See paragraph 8.

59c) Repeal the Personal Independent Payment (Amendment) Regulations of 2017 and ensure that eligibility criteria and assessments to access Personal Independent Payments, the Employment Support Allowance, and the Universal Credit are in line with the human rights model of disability;

  1. The PIP regulation changes were repealed but only following a legal challenge taken by a Disabled woman who was personally affected.185 We are concerned about the timetable for reviewing claims to identify the 200,000 claimants who lost entitlement due to the changes and are owed back-payments. We call for this to be undertaken as a matter of urgency.

  2. We contest that assessments for PIP and ESA/UC which, effectively deny eligibility to Disabled people in need of support, are in line with a human rights model of disability.

59d) Ensure sufficient budget allocation for local authorities to accomplish their responsibilities regarding assistance for persons with disabilities, and extend support packages to mitigate negative impacts of the social security reform in Northern Ireland; and

  1. Overwhelming evidence points to the unsustainability of English LAs creating a desperate situation of rising levels of unmet need.186

Scotland

  1. Devolution of social security benefits to Scotland is not yet online and there is no evidence of impact yet, only intention. However, the approach by Scottish Government, and elements of the Act including rights to advocacy, are welcomed.

Wales

  1. Despite the WG endeavouring to protect funding to social care, the overall cuts are having a significant impact on the amount and quality of care provided. UNISON Cymru recently described the home care system in Wales as being ‘in crisis’ including insufficient training for care staff in carrying out their role.187

59e) Conduct a review of the conditionality and sanction regimes concerning the Employment and Support Allowance, and tackle negative consequences on mental health and situation of persons with disabilities.

  1. See comments at paragraph 3.6 concerning welfare conditionality. Since 2010, over 110,000 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions and 900,000 Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) sanctions of Disabled people have been applied with a further 140,000 ESA and 160,000 JSA sanctions of Disabled people applied but later cancelled. Disabled people on JSA are 26 – 53% times more likely to be sanctioned that non-Disabled JSA claimants.188 The UKG continues to resist calls to use its own data to conduct an evaluation into the impact of conditionality.189 Research into experiences of conditionality by Disabled people shows damaging mental health impacts.190 Welfare conditionality is predicated on the idea that benefit claimants are work resistant and need to have their behaviour changed under threat of punishment. It denies the material reality of the barriers that Disabled people face to earning a living through employment and is not consistent with a human rights approach to disability.

Scotland

  1. It is unclear what the specific impact of the Scottish Welfare Fund is for Disabled people.

F. UK DDPO Recommendations

UK DDPOs continue to support the recommendations made by the UN Disability Committee in both their 2016 inquiry report and the Concluding Observations in 2017.

In addition, we call on UKG and, where relevant, devolved governments, to:

  1. Legislate for Disabled people’s right to independent living and being included in the community as set out in Article 19 of the UNCRPD, including through enshrinement of the full UNCRPD in domestic legislation.

  2. Implement Section 1 of the Equality Act 2014 in England and Wales, bringing into force a socio-economic duty.

  3. Establish a mechanism for implementation and monitoring of the UNCRPD across UK government including public bodies and local authorities including monitoring the accessibility and impact of consultation exercises on UNCRPD implementation.

  4. Commit to open and transparent engagement with UK DDPOs on implementation of the UNCRPD including funding DDPOs so they can fully engage.

  5. Embed DDPO engagement in policy development and review across government.

  6. Undertake a review of disability data collection across government with a view to improvement and also including how DDPOs can be funded and trained in Washington Group data so that DDPOs can contribute to data collection.

  7. Establish:

    • an independent body responsible for modelling the amount of funding needed both by social care to ensure future funding keeps pace with need. and by DDPOs, including those representing inter-sectional issues, alternative and culturally appropriate models.

    • an independent living task force led by Disabled people to develop proposals for independent living support for the future.

  8. Ensure funding for user-led research related to services and resources which are important to Disabled people.

  9. Abolish charging for social care.

  10. Pause the passage of the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill to undertake engagement with stakeholders and ensure the legislation is consistent with the UNCRPD.

  11. Take action to appropriately address the concerns of DDPOS and mental health survivors/users regarding the independent review of the Mental Health Act, its failure to consider relevant articles of the UNCRPD, inadequate engagement with people with lived experience, including those from marginalised communities, its inadequate supply of information and serious shortcomings in the interim report.

  12. Put an urgent focus on intersectional issues, both “protected characteristics” recognised in the Equality Act 2010 and those not yet addressed under this Act.

  13. Urgently invest more in community services and appropriate therapeutic support for children and young people experiencing mental distress capable of addressing complex and enduring needs.

  14. Remove the UKG reservation and interpretative declaration on Article 24 and the right to inclusive education.

  15. Stop placing children and young people in long stay hospitals which is not consistent with article 19 & 24 and to invest budgets into improving community services.

  16. As education up to 16 years is compulsory in the UK, inclusive education should be embedded across all the articles

  17. Stop the increase in establishment of special schools and transfer of resources from existing mainstream services to segregated services.

  18. Carry out a study to calculate the value for money of the Access to Work scheme.

  19. Stop the roll out of Universal Credit and design a social security system for the future that is based on an accurate analysis of need and is consistent with a human rights approach to disability.

  20. Undertake data modelling to assess the access and support needs of benefit claimants to inform policy development.

  21. Overhaul assessments of PIP and ESA and replace with assessments that take into account the real world barriers that Disabled people face.

  22. Carry out a review of the impacts of conditionality and end benefit sanctioning.

Wales

We call on the WG to:

  1. Incorporate the CRDP into Welsh law and policy.

  2. Develop and produce a code of practice on the implementation of the CRDP in exercising its functions.

  3. Encourage the adoption of Accessible Housing Registers in each LA and develop Standards on the monitoring and effectiveness of AHR.

  4. Introduce and resource the development of a “made in Wales” version of the Employers Disability Confident Scheme which is independently monitored.

Scotland

We call on Scottish Government, alongside taking account of the applicable actions in the UK section of this Annex, to:

  1. Ensure that that DDPOs in particular those of learning disabled people, are included in the development of policies relating to deprivation of liberty, assessment of capacity and supported decision-making.

  2. Work with DDPOs on a national debate on the future funding of social care including (i) the incompatibility between tendering requirements and Disabled people’s choice and control and (ii) abolishing charging, and then take action.

  3. Review, publish and act on the outcomes for Disabled people as a result of Fairer Scotland for Disabled People and extend these actions to cover other issues raised by disabled people as priorities for change.

  4. In keeping with the principles of the CRPD, ensure that the focus of forthcoming plan on employment takes account of the barriers presented by policies and practises and removes the focus on perceived deficits by Disabled people.

  5. In keeping with Recommendations 11.a and 11.b of the Concluding Observations191, ensure allocation of financial resources to support DDPOs and develop mechanisms to ensure the full participation of DDPOs in the design and implementation of policies, and monitor and measure these, including the Fairer Scotland for Disabled People Delivery Plan.

  1. Commit to a national strategy for the provision of accessible housing and consider the potential for creating a new, cross tenure, design and adaptability standard that would ensure homes for rent and private sale are accessible to Disabled people.

Annex A

THE GLOBAL DISABILITY SUMMIT 2018: CHARTER FOR CHANGE

#DisabilitySummit #NowIsTheTime

We gather here in London and across the world to achieve a common aim: to ensure the rights, freedoms, dignity and inclusion for all persons with disabilities.

Important progress has been made in the decade since the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). But we must do more. We must strive for real change through the Convention’s implementation and the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals for persons with disabilities. Now is the time.

So today we commit to:

1. Catalyse political will and leadership to turn our promises into change; in long-term plans that we invest in, implement and review.

2. Promote the leadership and diverse representation of all persons with disabilities to be front and centre of change; as leaders, partners and advocates. This includes the active involvement and close consultation of persons with disabilities of all ages.

3. Eliminate stigma and discrimination through legislation and policies that make a difference, promoting meaningful leadership, and consistently challenging harmful attitudes and practices. All people deserve dignity and respect.

4. Progress and support actions that advance inclusive quality education for people with disabilities, with the necessary resources to put plans into practice: every child has the right to learn from birth.

5. Open up routes to economic empowerment and financial inclusion so that persons with disabilities can enjoy decent work and achieve financial independence. This will mean creating more and better jobs, providing social protection, ensuring the necessary skills training, making workplaces accessible and hiring people with disabilities.

6. Revolutionise the availability and affordability of appropriate assistive technology, including digital, which will enable persons with disabilities to fully participate and contribute to society.

7. Change practices to make all humanitarian action fully inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities. We will mainstream inclusion across all Disaster Risk Reduction and humanitarian sectors, and implement our commitments in the Charter ‘Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action’. 8. ‘Leave no one behind’ and put the furthest behind first. We will champion the rights of the most under-represented and marginalised persons with disabilities, of all ages, affected by any form of multiple discrimination, and notably women and girls with disabilities.

9. Gather and use better data and evidence to understand and address the scale, and nature, of challenges faced by persons with disabilities, using tested tools including the Washington Group Disability Question Sets.

10. Hold ourselves and others to account for the promises we have made here today. We agree that our individual commitments will be reviewed, assessed and published on a regular basis, with the results published online.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/global-disability-summit-charter-for-change

Annex B

Inclusion London briefing on Mental Capacity (Amendment) bill

As an organisation that is run and controlled by Disabled people we are extremely concerned about the Mental Capacity Amendment Bill, that is currently at the Committee Stage in the House of Lords. We believe this bill will have a significant, negative impact on Disabled people’s human rights. Our concerns are echoed by leading academics and lawyers. Provider organisations such as Dimensions who would be given significant new responsibilities under the bill have also raised serious concerns.

Our key concerns:

The lack of consultation with people affected by the bill and their organisations – In many important aspects the bill is at odds with what has been proposed by the Law Commission after it undertook its review and engagement. There is no evidence of the engagement with people who are affected to discuss the divergence from initial proposals. We are also seriously concerned about the fact that none of the materials for the bill and the bill itself are available in alternative formats, especially in Easy-Read. This indicates to us that people who are affected could not and still aren’t able to meaningfully engage with the proposed changes. We therefore believe the passage of the bill should be halted at least until all the materials are available in accessible formats and consultation undertaken.

Weakening human rights protection – not only does the bill go against the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD192), which the UK has ratified, it will significantly weaken the few existing protections people have under current legislation. We know deprivation of liberty is often used as an alternative to providing better and sometimes more expensive care. The bill makes it easier to detain people. It removes independent assessments for the majority of cases, except when a care home manager or a local authority decides that the person concerned is objecting. The bill does not require them to consult with the person concerned, give any weight to their wishes and feelings or even to inform them or their relatives about the decisions that are being made. There are no attempts to introduce elements of the supported decision-making system. The bill restricts access to independent advocacy and does not improve in any way the person’s ability to challenge decisions that are made about them. The bill does not make it clear that deprivation of liberty cannot be used when other less restrictive options, such as providing more support or looking at true reasons behind the person’s “challenging behaviour” could work to achieve the aim.

We believe amendments are needed in the following areas to ensure the bill is compliant with international human rights standards including the UNCRPD and the ECHR:

  • Ensuring everything is done to promote Disabled people’s liberty including provision of sufficient and appropriate support, so deprivation is only ever as a last resort.

  • Making it easy to challenge decisions that deprive liberty, including by ensuring everyone has a right to an advocate of their choice and a duty to refer cases to the Court of Protection when there is a dispute and access to non-means tested legal aid.   

  • Ensuring significant weight is given to people’s wishes and wants when decisions are made, including choice of a person who will support them to make decisions or makes decisions for them.

  • Preventing deprivation of liberty for the purpose of protecting others.

  • Ensuring effective participation of the person in the process: they should be consulted, informed in an accessible way, asked if they want to challenge and helped to do it if they want to.

  • Putting in place effective safeguards to ensure people are not deprived of their liberty unnecessarily.

  • Access to independent advocacy should be on an opt out basis.

Annex C

Examples of engagement with DDPOs in specific policy areas that show room for improvement

  1. UKG

1.1 Future of social care (Article 19)

1.11 To all intents and purposes DDPOs have effectively been excluded from all work and consultation on the future of social care.

1.12 Jackie Doyle-Price The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Heath gave an oral statement on 7 December 2017193announcing the Green paper on Social care for older people, a series of roundtable consultation events with stakeholders and a parallel programme of work on working age social care led by the Department of Health & Social care (DHSC) and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

1.13 Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (a Disabled Peer) raised concerns about the parallel programme of work on working age social care in the House of Lords on 20 February 2018194 only to find out that a round-table event on working age social care was being organised without any representation from DDPOs. Following an intervention from Lord Cormack, Baroness Campbell was invited to the roundtable meeting which took place on 28 February 2018 at which no DDPOs were present.

1.14 On 4 April 2018 Inclusion London and 34 other DDPOs195 wrote to Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Social Care, expressing our concern at the lack of DDPO involvement in the round table event and requesting DDPOs active involvement in the work on working age social care going forward. In her reply196 dated 11 May 2018 the Minister stated that since the roundtable “officials have met with a range of people including, Disability Rights UK, people with lived experience and national charities and further discussions are planned”. There was no specific mention of, or commitment to meet, DDPOs in her letter.

1.15 Inclusion London received an email from Helen Wiggins at the DHSC on 17 May requesting a meeting to discuss the parallel working age work stream. We asked if we could open the meeting up to our DDPO members and on 11 July a two hour meeting took place between two representatives from DHSC and the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (the DHSC representative turned up an hour late), and Inclusion London & member DDPOs. Neither representative from the government could cite any other engagement with DDPOs (except DRUK) in the working age consultation but they did confirm they had met with a number of charities.

1.16 To our knowledge the 11 July meeting has been the only meeting between the government and DDPOs on the future of social care.

    1. Inclusive Education

1.21 On 25 May 2018 the Parliamentary under-Secretary of State for Children and Families wrote to the Alliance for Inclusive Education to turn down a request to meet to discuss Article 24 rights. There is currently no mechanism for dialogue with UKG over Article 24.

1.3 Review of Personal Independence Payment Regulations

1.31 After the High Court quashed changes to the Personal Independence Payment Regulations which the government rushed through in February 2017 to prevent many people living with mental distress from qualifying for higher rates of PIP in the case of RF v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the DWP had to revise the guidance which is used by the assessors to determine whether or not a person meets criteria to qualify for this benefit. 

1.32 During April and May 2018 the lawyers from the Public Law Project (PLP) who represented the claimant (RF) urged, on her behalf, the DWP staff responsible for drafting the changes to engage with DDPOs for feedback about the proposed changes.  DDPOs even offered practical help, such as sending information and collating feedback, which was passed on to the DWP. The DWP sent RF and her barristers the draft guidance changes which they stressed could not be shared with anyone else. At this point, PLP sent them the contact details of DDPOs that were involved in the case and had offered to give feedback on the regulations and again urged the DWP to send the draft to them.  The DWP’s initial response dated 24 April 2018 stated that they were undertaking a “targeted stakeholder feedback” with named organisations, only one of which could be considered a DDPO. Then 7 days, before the 30 May 2018 deadline for this targeted feedback exercise, DWP officials told PLP that “it would be challenging to involve organisations who haven’t previously been involved in discussions with the Department” and they “do not intend on widening the engagement”. On 25 May 2018, DWP officials confirmed that the only offer they could provide for engagement from other DDPOs, including those who had been involved in the case and as named by RF, was to email their general email address without access to seeing the draft guidance itself.

  1. Scotland

    1. Adults with Incapacity Act/Mental Health Act (Articles 12, 19 and 28)

2.11 People First Scotland (PFS) has been involved with Scottish Government in relation to consultations on two Acts – proposed changes to the Adults with Incapacity Act and a limited review of the Mental Health Act. The Acts impact on Article 12 (Equal Recognition before the Law, specifically exercise of legal capacity) as well as on Articles 19 and 28, in respect of people with intellectual impairments (learning disability). If the Acts, in their current forms are applied to an individual, they both effectively remove self- determination, freedom of movement and association, impacting on our enjoyment of the above Articles, and others. No firm conclusions have yet emerged from either Review. We recognise the willingness of officials to meet with DDPOs and to publish Disabled people’s input in the Review documents, however it seems that little weight has been given to this input and little has changed.

2.12 PFS highlighted the disparity and their own disappointment at being excluded from policy development work to develop policies on deprivation of liberty, assessment of capacity and supported decision-making. This is despite the fact that it is PFS members who are being deprived of their liberty and whose legal capacity is being removed on the grounds of impaired intellectual capacity and despite this being the only organisation to have produced a framework for supported decision-making in Scotland.

2.2 Work and employment (Article 27)

2.21 Inclusion Scotland, and other DDPOs, were members of the Congress Planning Group. The Congress, which took place in April 2018, is one of the Actions (no 49) from the Fairer Scotland Delivery Plan and was positioned as a key milestone towards the Scottish Government’s goal to ‘at least half the employment gap’ (Action no 28 of the Delivery Plan). Other, non-DDPO, 3rd sector disability organisations were also part of this planning group by invitation of the Scottish Government and there were difficulties around our different values and how the Congress would meet (or not as it turned out) these values. The role of DDPO’s in working with Government to progress rights, and dignity in this case, was undermined. Scottish Government could usefully be reminded of the central role that DDPOs play in the UNCRPD process, and to demonstrate clearly that they understand the distinction between DDPOs (organisations of) and disability organisations (organisations for).

.

2.22 Inclusion Scotland is currently part of the Scottish Government’s Expert Advisory Group working towards publication of a “Disability Equality Action Plan”, due in October. The aim of this is to develop actions to ‘at least half the employment gap’. However, early indications are that this will focus on employability services for Disabled people, at the expense of support to grow employer’s own “employerability”. The need to support “employerability” is a solution arising from the Annual Disabled People’s Summit and promoted in our report Situations Vacant. Scottish Government has been advised of Disabled people’s solutions to halve the employment gap, but appear to favour an employability approach thus perpetuating the belief that our unemployment is due to a deficit in our skills and attitudes.

Annex D

Independent review of the Mental Health Act

These have been some particular concerns for DDPOs, individuals with lived experience and allies who signed a letter from NSUN197 about the Mental Health Act Review dated 29 May 2018. There were over 120 co-signatories to the letter including 40 DDPOs, with the remainder coming from individuals with lived experience and allies (both organisational and individual). Concerns include:

  • Limits to the co-production principle set out in the terms of reference

  • An inadequate focus both on the UNCRPD itself and on recommendations from the Convention’s Committee last October. There are also concerns about the impact which Brexit may have on the human rights of people in mental distress

  • The unrealistic speed of the Review

  • A difficulty for Disabled people with making informed choices both because of a lack of publicity about alternatives to the Mental Health Act 1983 and because of inadequate information about the Review itself

  • Current flaws in data collection from people with lived experience who belong to marginalised communities, including those who come from BAME communities, have learning difficulties, are deaf, experience gender issues, have physical disabilities, or sight impairments, identify as LGB, or T and/or are older

  • Serious shortfalls in the quality of the interim report

  • The prevalence of a clinical model and clinical language in the report.

NSUN representatives have raised these concerns through channels such as the Review’s advisory panel meetings, topic groups and stakeholder events, the letter to the Review Chair and Vice Chairs on 29 May and meetings with the Chair, Vice Chairs and members of the secretariat. However, replies received have not been adequate. The response to NSUN’s letter at the meeting held to discuss it on 13 July 2018 was experienced as both unsatisfactory and discourteous. In particular, the Chair challenged whether DDPOs would really want the UNCRPD fully implemented. NSUN is now in process of putting together a follow-up letter, in consultation with co-signatories to the first letter, and drafting a further set of detailed recommendations about changes needed if the Review is to be compliant with the human rights set out in the UNCRPD.

Annex E

List of DDPOs who contributed to this report

Alliance for Inclusive Education

Black Triangle

British Deaf Association

Deaf Scotland

Disability Action (Northern Ireland)

Disabled People Against Cuts

DPAC Bristol and South-West

Disability Wales

Inclusion London

Inclusion Scotland

Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living

Merton CIL

National Survivor and User Network

People First Scotland,

People First (Self Advocacy)

Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance

Sisters of Frida

Transport for All.

1 An organisation is a DDPO if: their Management Committee or Board has at least 75% of representation from Deaf and Disabled people; at least 50% of their paid staff team are Deaf or Disabled people with representation at all levels of the organisation; they provide services for, or work on behalf of, Deaf and Disabled people; and they follow an equality and human rights approach in their work. We use the terminology “Deaf and Disabled people” to reflect the cultural model of Deafness, whereby Deaf sign language users identify not as Disabled people but instead as a linguistic minority.

2 The following DDPOs have contributed to and support this report: Alliance for Inclusive Education, Black Triangle, British Deaf Association, Deaf Scotland, Disability Action (Northern Ireland), Disabled People Against Cuts, Disability Wales, Inclusion London, Inclusion Scotland, Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living, Merton CIL, National Survivor and User Network, People First Scotland, People First (Self Advocacy), Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, Sisters of Frida, Transport for All.

3 Towards Disabled children and adults in their areas.

On 8 March 2018, the National Audit Office (NAO) released a report which showed that government funding for local authorities has dropped by 49% in real terms since 2010, resulting in a 29% drop in spending power: National Audit Officer (2018) Financial sustainability of local authorities 2018 [online] Available at: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Financial-sustainabilty-of-local-authorites-2018.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

In July 2018, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) warned that government-imposed budget cuts over the last seven years have left a number of councils under “enormous pressure” and “in a worrying financial position”, and raised concern about the lack of government plans to secure councils’ financial future:

UK Parliament (2018) No Government plan to secure councils’ financial future – News from Parliament. [online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/news-parliament-2017/financial-sustainability-local-authorities-report-published-17-19/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

By enforcing a section 114 notice, Northamptonshire County Council has become the first LA in over 20 years to effectively declare itself bankrupt, banning all new expenditure in order to hit its legally required balanced budget. Other local authorities are likely to follow suit. Somerset County Council, for example, was recently warned by auditors that it was due to run out of money imminently. The NAO revealed that one in 10 LAs could run out of reserves within the next three years. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism also found that 22 councils had reduced these reserves by more than 50% in the last five years.

Davies, G. (2018). County councils in crisis: three more named as showing signs of financial distress. [online] The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Available at: https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2018-03-08/councils-in-crisis-three-more-named-as-showing-signs-of-financial-distress [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Fogg, N. (2018). Will Northamptonshire be the last council to go bankrupt? We’ve crunched the numbers. [online] Citymetric.com. Avail able at: https://www.citymetric.com/politics/will-northamptonshire-be-last-council-go-bankrupt-we-ve-crunched-numbers-3773 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

The Children’s Commissioner for England has warned that “vulnerable children” face “catastrophe” over crisis-hit councils: BBC News. (2018). Vulnerable children facing ‘catastrophe’. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-45069057 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

4 Since last year we have experienced growing numbers of English LAs adopting harsher charging policies to increase the amount that Disabled people have to pay towards the costs of their social care. All but one local authority currently chooses to exercise their power to make a charge for social care services to people who need support. Over a third (41%) of social care users surveyed by national inclusion charity In Control said they had experienced a substantial increase in the level of charge over the past 2 years. A third of people providing a figure for the increase in charges said they had experienced an increase of over 50% in the last two years. This research is not yet published (due November 2018).

5 An investigation by GMB union found more than 166,000 people are trapped in debt for their social care. Freedom of Information requests also show at least 1,178 people have been taken to court by local authorities for social care debts. Of the total of at least 166,835 people who are in arrears on their social care payments, more than 78,000 have debt management procedures started against them by their authority for non-payment of social care charges. The true figure is likely to be higher as some authorities didn’t respond:

gmb.org.uk. (2018). GMB – At Least 166,000 Trapped In Social Care Debt. [online] Available at: http://www.gmb.org.uk/newsroom/social-care-debt [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

6 As above, this research is not yet published (due November 2018). Other key findings include: people are having to find money for care and support from other areas of essential spend; 33% reported that they had reduced spending on housing costs; 43% had reduced the amount they spend on food and 40% on heating to meet the cost of care; and 21% reported that they had gone into debt by borrowing to pay for care and support.

7 45,864 new detentions under the Mental Health Act were recorded in 2016/17. The NHS digital statistics service estimates there was an increase in detentions of around 2% from the previous year:

NHS Digital. (2017). Mental Health Act Statistics, Annual Figures: 2016-17, Experimental statistics – NHS Digital. [online] Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-act-statistics-annual-figures/mental-health-act-statistics-annual-figures-2016-17-experimental-statistics [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Data collected for inpatients with learning disabilities and autism at the end of May 2018 showed that of 2,400 inpatients in hospital at the end of the reporting period, 1,405 (59%) had a total length of stay of over 2 years. 41% of inpatients in hospital in May 2018 had travelled over 50km for treatment. Just over half of the people have a date planned for them to leave hospital (1,485):

NHS Digital. (2018). Learning Disability Services Monthly Statistics Provisional Statistics (AT: May 2018, MHSDS: March 2018 Final) – NHS Digital. [online] Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/learning-disability-services-statistics/learning-disability-services-monthly-statistics-provisional-statistics-at-may-2018-mhsds-march-2018-final [Accessed: 11 Sep. 2018].

8 Shared by DDPOs, public lawyers and academics. See Annex B, also:

Inclusion London (2018) Mental Capacity Amendment Bill: Act now to prevent the government from weakening our human protections [online] Available at: https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/campaigns-and-policy/campaigning-networks/il-legal-network/mental-capacity-amendment-bill-act-now-to-prevent-the-government-from-weakening-our-human-rights-protections/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018].

9 In England for example there are around 365,000 Disabled people with unmet housing needs.

GOV.UK. (2018). English housing survey 2014 to 2015: adaptations and accessibility of homes report. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/english-housing-survey-2014-to-2015-adaptations-and-accessibility-of-homes-report [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Social housing is particularly important for Disabled people since Disabled people are twice as likely as non-Disabled people to live in social housing:

AKW (2016) The Social Housing Ageing & Disability Crisis [online] Available at: https://www.akw-ltd.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/AKW_Social_Housing_Ageing_Crisis_Whitepaper.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

In 2015-16 49% of households in the social housing sector had at least one Disabled member:

Department for Communities and Local Government (2017) English Housing Survey Social rented sector, 2015-16 [online]. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/632464/Social_rented_sector_report_2015-16.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

An inquiry by the EHRC into disability and housing found that there is very strong and unmet demand from Disabled people in the social housing sector, where the average waiting time is over two years and, in one case, 20 years. The report concludes that “increasing the availability of social housing needs to be part of the solution to the shortage of accessible homes”:

EHRC (2018) Housing and Disabled people – Britain’s hidden crisis. [online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/housing-and-Disabled-people-britains-hidden-crisis-main-report.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

10 The government green paper on social housing published in August 2018 fails to mention the need for new accessible housing, only mentioning housing for Disabled people within the context of “supported housing.”

GOV.UK. (2018). Social housing green paper: a ‘new deal’ for social housing. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/social-housing-green-paper-a-new-deal-for-social-housing [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

11 The education watchdog Ofsted’s 2017/16 annual report warned that some parents were being asked to educate their Disabled children at home because their schools claimed they could not meet their needs. It stated that the proportion of pupils with a SEN (Special Educational Needs) statement or EHCP (Education Health and Care Plan) attending a state-funded special school, rather than mainstream provision, had risen to 45% from 40% in 2010:

Ofsted (2017) The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2016/17 [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/666871/Ofsted_Annual_Report_2016-17_Accessible.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

12 Findings from a survey of over 900 staff working in schools in England found that cuts affecting SEND pupils are worsening, with half of respondents saying their school had cut support for SEND children this year, compared to 40% last year. Interim findings showed that one in five teachers were aware of illegal exclusions of SEND students within their educational setting. The number of Disabled pupils without any educational placement was also found to have risen to 4,050 in 2017 in England, up from 776 in 2010:

NEU – The National Education Union. (2018). Vulnerable special needs pupils at risk of exclusion due to funding cuts – NEU survey. [online] Available at: https://neu.org.uk/latest/vulnerable-special-needs-pupils-risk-exclusion-due-funding-cuts-–-neu-survey [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Hazell, W. and Ward, H. (2017). ‘1 in 5 teachers aware of illegal SEND exclusions’ | Tes News. [online] Tes.com. Available at: https://www.tes.com/news/1-5-teachers-aware-illegal-send-exclusions [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Richardson, H. (2018). No school for 4,000 special needs pupils. [online] BBC News. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43604865 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

13 Harris, J. (2018). The sinister segregation policies excluding children who don’t ‘fit in’. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/16/pupils-special-educational-needs-children-mainstream-schools [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

14 Just under half of all school exclusions affect Disabled pupils. A survey by the charity Ambitious about Autism suggested that as many as 26,000 children and young people on the autism spectrum are being unlawfully excluded each year:

Ambitious about Autism. (n.d.). Why is this campaign important? [online] Available at: https://www.ambitiousaboutautism.org.uk/why-is-this-campaign-important [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

The number of children permanently excluded from state primary, secondary and special schools in England increased by about 1,000 between 2016 and 2017, according to the Department for Education (DfE) figures. The total (7,700) equates to more than 40 permanent exclusions a day during the 2016-17 school year. Pupils with an EHCP or a statement of SEN had the highest fixed-period exclusion rate at 16% in 2016-17 – more than five times higher than pupils without, at 3%.

15 Department for Work and Pensions (2018) Annual Report and Accounts 2017-18. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/721224/dwp-annual-report-and-accounts-2017-2018.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

16 Analysis of ONS statistics show that for every 100 Disabled people moving into work, 114 leave. This compares with an equivalent of 100 non-Disabled people moving into work and just 97 leaving. Analysis of the Labour Force Survey two-quarter longitudinal dataset shows that between October 2016 and March 2017, 123,000 Disabled people moved out of work. This represents 5% of the total number of Disabled people in employment between January-March 2016. During the same period 108,000 Disabled people moved into work; 3% of the total number of Disabled people who were out of work in October-December 2016:

Scope.org.uk. (2018). Government not meeting Disabled workers pledge. [online] Available at: https://www.scope.org.uk/press-releases/government-will-fail-one-million-Disabled-people-work [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Office for National Statistics, Social Survey Division (2018) Labour Force Survey Two-Quarter Longitudinal Dataset, October 2017 – March 2018. [data collection] UK Data Service. SN: 8344, http://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-8344-1 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

17 Disability Employment and Pay Gaps. (2018). [ebook] TUC. Available at: Tuc.org.uk. (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Disabilityemploymentandpaygaps.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

18 Analysis by the TUC of the Labour Force Survey shows that the pay gap between Q3 2016 and Q2 2017 was 15%. This means that on average an EA Disabled worker earns £1.50 less an hour than a non-Disabled counterpart:

Ibid.

In August. the EHRC also published research showing that just 3% of organisations measure their Disability pay gaps:

EHRC (2018) Measuring and reporting on disability and ethnicity pay gaps. [online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/measuring-and-reporting-on-ethnicity-and-disability-pay-gaps.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

19 There are targets to expand services without comparable increases in funding. The report found that:

  • Almost half the respondents had experienced changes to their Access to Work package with “cuts” or “cost cutting” as the most frequently given reason
  • Evidence of rationing strategies
  • Nearly all of those experiencing changes reported negative impacts on their work. In the worst cases people had lost their job, turned down work or reduced their income as a result of the changes
  • Many respondents reported a personal, as well as professional, impact from the changes through stress, poorer health, and loss of self-esteem or confidence:

Inclusion London (2017) Barriers to Work: A survey of Deaf and Disabled people’s experiences of the Access to Work programme in 2015/2016 [online] Available at: https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Barriers-to-Work_InclusionLondon_Oct-2017-1.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

20 GOV.UK. (2018). Increased funding announced for Disabled people with the greatest barriers to work. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/increased-funding-announced-for-Disabled-people-with-the-greatest-barriers-to-work [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

21 Figures published in June 2018 show that since the roll out of PIP, 381,640 Disabled people who previously received DLA, which PIP replaced, have been turned down for the new benefit upon reassessment. (Calculated on: 1,264,000 PIP applications being re-assessed DLA claims and 72% of DLA reassessment claims being successful):

Work and Pensions (2018) Personal Independence Payment: Official Statistics [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/714950/pip-statistics-to-april-2018.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

There is continued widespread concern shared by DDPOs, disability charities, public lawyers, academics, Parliamentarians, the media, and the wider public about the design, quality and operation of assessments for ESA and PIP. Latest figures from January-March 2018 show the rate for assessment decisions over-turned at appeal to be 71% for PIP and 70% for ESA. Where law centres or advice agencies are involved in representing claimants, there is a success rate of nearly 100%:

Ministry of Justice (2018) Tribunals and Gender Recognition Statistics Quarterly, January to March 2018 (Provisional) [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/716008/tribunal-grc-statistics-q4-201718.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

22 Benefits including ESA, Income Support, JSA and UC can be stopped or reduced if claimants are deemed to have breached jobcentre rules, typically by failing to turn up for appointments or applying for enough jobs. Benefits can be stopped for between four weeks and three years. There is mounting evidence that conditionality (the idea that benefit claimants have certain conditions they must meet in order to receive their benefits) and sanctioning are counter-productive in that rather than incentivising Disabled people to find work, they move them further from the labour market.

23 More than two thirds of those affected by the “bedroom tax” are Disabled people. As of May 2017, there were 414 thousand households in Great Britain who had a deduction made from their housing benefit due to the removal of the spare room subsidy. Of these, there were 278 thousand where the claimant or partner was receiving DLA, PIP or ESA. These figures do not account for Disabled people not in receipt of those benefits, so the actual percentage is likely to be much higher:

UK Parliament. (2017). Housing Benefit: Social Rented Housing: Written question – 109181. [online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2017-10-23/109181 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

24 Citizens Advice (2017) Delivering on Universal Credit [online] Available at: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/Global/CitizensAdvice/welfare%20publications/Delivering%20on%20Universal%20Credit%20-%20report.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

25 There have been a number of protests and lobbying campaigns against UC:

Pring, J. (2018). DPAC’s universal credit ‘crime scene’ protest is fresh call for action to Disabled people. [online] Disability News Service. Available at: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/dpacs-universal-credit-crime-scene-protest-is-fresh-call-for-action-to-Disabled-people/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

Unitetheunion.org. (2018). STOP Universal Credit. [online] Available at: http://www.unitetheunion.org/campaigning/stop–fix-universal-credit/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

BBC News. (2017). Charity calls for Universal Credit action. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41226942 [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

26 A report published in October 2017 by Southwark Council (in partnership with Croydon Council and Peabody), found UC has the potential to be “catastrophic” and lead to a spiral of debt for claimants unless major flaws are addressed. The report found that in the 20 weeks of transferring from the legacy benefit system to UC, the average claimant had £156 of arrears. In Southwark alone, where 12% of council tenants had moved onto UC, rent arrears totalled over £5.3m. One food bank in the London borough reported an increase in the number of referrals by 94%:

The Smith Institute (2017) Safe as houses: the impact of universal credit on tenants and their rent payment behaviour in the London boroughs of Southwark and Croydon, and Peabody. [online] Available at: http://www.southwark.gov.uk/assets/attach/5092/Safe_as_Houses.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

27 A public and media outcry pressured the government into changing the UC helpline to a freephone number. Previously it was 45p a minute for landline and 55p a minute for mobiles, with callers often facing long waiting times to speak to an adviser:

Mason, R. and Walker, P. (2017). Universal credit helpline charges to be scrapped. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/18/universal-credit-helpline-charges-to-be-scrapped [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

28 The report concluded “that the project is not value for money now, and that its future value for money is unproven.”

National Audit Office (2018) Rolling out Universal Credit. [online] https://www.nao.org.uk/report/rolling-out-universal-credit/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

29 “Sanctioning may have zero or even negative impacts on job-related outcomes”.

Geiger, B. (2017). Benefits conditionality for Disabled people: stylised facts from a review of international evidence and practice. Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, 25(2), pp.107-128.

This is also one of the conclusions drawn from soon to be published qualitative research from the University of Essex and Inclusion London carried out through interviews with Disabled claimants in the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group.

30 The research, due to be published in October entitled “The Activity Trap: Disabled people’s fear of being active”, finds: almost half (47%) are fearful of losing their benefits if they are seen to be more active; almost half (48%) fear being seen as ‘too independent’ for a Disabled person; More than half (55%) said they were likely to be more active if benefits weren’t at risk of being taken away. http://www.activityalliance.org.uk/research.

31 Legislation.gov.uk. (2012). Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. [online] Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/contents/enacted [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

32 EHRC (2017) Being Disabled in Britain: a journey less equal [online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/being-Disabled-in-britain.pdf [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

33 The closure of advice and law centres as a consequence of LASPO have resulted in “very significant problems” for Disabled people in enforcing rights under the Equality Act. Catherine Casserley, a barrister with Cloisters who has practised discrimination law since 1996, including for the former Disability Rights Commission, stated Disabled people had “very significant problems” enforcing their rights under the Equality Act. She cited advice centres and law centres closing, while it seemed that even some of the judiciary appeared to have difficulty understanding disability discrimination law:

Pring, J. (2016). ‘Enforcement is key on Equality Act’. [online] Disability News Service. Available at: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/enforcement-is-key-on-equality-act/ [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

35 The evidence gathering for the post-implementation review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) is ongoing:

GOV.UK. (2018). Post-implementation review of LASPO. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-implementation-review-of-laspo [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

36 See paragraph 7.6.

37 In March 2015, the UKG announced a cap on Access to Work (a scheme providing support for Deaf and Disabled people to get into and stay in employment) to be introduced from October 2015, then for existing users from March 2018. The cap was initially implemented at 1.5 times the average annual salary, and subsequently rose in April 2018 to double average annual earnings. The rise coincided with a court case brought by a Deaf man with support from a number of DDPOs and the EHRC. The persistence of the cap policy means that those requiring the highest awards are still negatively impacted. Approximately 200 Deaf people initially had their awards reduced due the initial cap, constituting 90% of those affected. In addition, any new Deaf and Disabled entering the workplace requiring interpreters or the higher level of support will be affected. The implementation of an Access to Work cap denies access and inclusion in the workplace for Deaf and Disabled people with the most costly access requirements.

38 More United. (2018). More United wins campaign to restore disability fund. [online] Available at: https://www.moreunited.uk/meeting-minister-women-equalities [Accessed 22 Sep. 2018]. The Access to Elected Fund was a grant scheme providing awards between £250 and £40,000 for Deaf and Disabled people standing for election to, or selection as a candidate for, various offices including UK Parliament, English local government, Police and Crime Commissioner, and other local and national elected roles. The fund aimed to address under-representation of Deaf and Disabled people in local and national political life. However, in 2015 the government stated it was “frozen” and put “under review”. After significant pressure by More United, EHRC and DDPOs, the government agreed in May 2018 to restore the fund, but only for 12 months, after which time, Deaf and Disabled people will continue to have significant barriers to standing for political positions due to the additional costs incurred.

39 In a debate on the UNCRPD secured by an opposition MP in October 2017, then Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Penny Mordaunt started her contribution describing the “medieval conditions” of “hospitals and orphanages of post-revolutionary Romania” which she experienced while in the Navy twenty-six years ago. She then talked about the UKG’s international aid efforts on disability before turning to the domestic situation:

Hansard.parliament.uk. (2017). UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Hansard. [online] Available at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2017-10-12/debates/A20CF46E-116A-47B2-BA33-11CAA47B3FC0/UNConventionOnTheRightsOfPersonsWithDisabilities [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

40 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2018) General comment on article 4.3 and 33.3 of the convention on the participation with persons with disabilities in the implementation and monitoring of the Convention. [online]. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CRPD/Draft_GC7.docx [Accessed 11 Sep. 2018].

41 As outlined in UNCRPD General Comment on article 19; living independently and being included in the community (paragraph 89):

Ohchr.org. (2017). OHCHR | General Comments. [online] Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/CRPD/Pages/GC.aspx [Accessed 16 Sep. 2018].

42 This is how it is understood at ministerial level and how it is deployed as a way of making savings by LAs, too often resulting in denial of need and failure to uphold Disabled people’s right to independent living as understood by the UNCRPD.

In one example, in a debate on the future of social care in the House of Commons on April 25 2018, a minister within the DHSC responded to a question from an opposition MP about Disabled people’s right to independent living, by stating “one of our priorities is to make sure that Disabled people can live independently for longer”:

hansard.parliament.uk. (2018) Social Care – Hansard. [online] Available at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-04-25/debates/E7C9CDC1-C97B-4FC0-93FC-1E2A7FE7C189/SocialCare [Accessed 16 Sep. 2018].

In one examples at LA level, Bristol City Council has a “Maximising Independence team” within adult social care. This is part of the “Better Lives Programme” tasked with making savings of over £12 million over the next three years by “ensuring residents can maximise their own independence”. Appendix 6: savings proposals. (2018). [ebook] Bristol City Council. Available at: https://democracy.bristol.gov.uk/documents/s19531/Appendix%206%20-%20Savings%20proposals.pdf [Accessed 22 Sep. 2018].

43 Penny Mordaunt, Minister for International Development and former Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, in her key note speech. When asked what inclusive education meant to her, Penny Mordaunt responded: “Inclusive education means that everyone has an education and it is done in a way to reach their full potential.”

Pring, J. (2018). Global Disability Summit: Anger over Mordaunt’s bid to redefine inclusive education. [online] Disability News Service. Available at: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/global-disability-summit-anger-over-mordaunts-bid-to-redefine-inclusive-education/ [Accessed: 16 Sep. 2018].

44 Inquiry by the House of Commons education select committee.

UK Parliament. (2018). Special educational needs and disabilities inquiry launched – News from Parliament. [online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/education-committee/news-parliament-2017/special-educational-needs-and-disability-launch-17-19/ [Accessed: 16 Sep. 2018].

Pring, J. (2018). ‘Deep concern’ as launch of MPs’ inquiry into SEN support ignores inclusive education. [online] Disability News Service. Available at: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/deep-concern-as-launch-of-mps-inquiry-into-sen-support-ignores-inclusive-education/ [Accessed: 16 Sep. 2018].

45 Publications.parliament.uk. (2018). Long term funding of adult social care – Health and Social Care and Housing, Communities and Local Government Committees – House of Commons. [online] Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/768/76810.htm#_idTextAnchor124 [Accessed: 16 Sep. 2018].

46 Similar recommendations have been made this year by:

Institute for Public Policy Research (2018) The Lord Darzi Review of Health and Care Final Report: BETTER HEALTH AND CARE FOR ALL – A 10-POINT PLAN FOR THE 2020s. [online] Available at: https://www.ippr.org/files/2018-06/better-health-and-care-for-all-june2018.pdf https://www.ippr.org/files/2018-06/better-health-and-care-for-all-june2018.pdf [Accessed 16 Sep. 2018].

The Kings Fund (2018) Hypothecated funding for health and social care, how might it work? [online] Available at: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/default/files/2018-05/Hypothecated_funding_Kings_Fund_May_2018.pdf [Accessed: 16 Sep. 2018].

47 A Parliamentary Question on this has remained effectively unanswered:

Publications.parliament.uk (2008) Universal Credit: Disability: Written Question 169883. [online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2018-09-03/169883/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

48 Between 2016 and 2018, over 100 Jobcentres (about 15% of the network) will have closed. The government justifies the cuts in Jobcentres and employment services because overall unemployment has fallen. There are significant concerns that the system does not have the capacity to meet the needs of the millions of people who will claim UC and who will be expected to prepare for work and search for jobs. It may also fail to cope with a rapid increase in the number of people claiming benefits in the event of another economic recession:

The Conversation (2018). Why are Britain’s jobcentres disappearing? [online] Available at: http://theconversation.com/why-are-britains-jobcentres-disappearing-91290 [Accessed 16 Sep. 2018].

49 DWP figures show that from May 2017 to April 2018, 2.8% of UC claimants have been subject a sanction compared to 0.3% of people on JSA, and 0.1% of people on ESA. With the rate of sanctioning so much higher under UC it is important to be able to assess any disproportionate and potentially discriminatory impacts on Deaf and Disabled people:

GOV.UK. (2018). Benefit sanctions statistics to April 2018. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/benefit-sanctions-statistics-to-april-2018 [Accessed 16 Sep. 2018].

50 By the Minister for Disabled people, Work and Health during oral questions in the House of Commons. Hansard.parliament.uk. (2018). Disabled People: Financial Support – Hansard. [online] Available at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-05-21/debates/664052A1-FCA0-4A29-8E48-FD0C7B56A20C/DisabledPeopleFinancialSupport [Accessed 22 Sep. 2018].

51 In March 2010, there were the equivalent of 48 full-time staff working in ODI; in May 2018 there was the equivalent of just 15.45. In 2017, the ODI website was updated just three times, compared with five updates in 2016, and 17 in 2015:

Pring, J. (2018). Office for Disability Issues staff levels have plummeted since 2010, DWP admits. [online] Disability News Service. Available at: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/office-for-disability-issues-staff-levels-have-plummeted-since-2010-dwp-admits/ [Accessed 16 Sep. 2018].

52 This was a commitment in the 2017 Conservative manifesto, repeated at the launch of the work, health and disability command paper “Improving Lives” in November 2017. Cuts to social care and retrogression of the right to independent living are acting as an increasing barrier to employment opportunities for Disabled people:

Department for Work and Pensions, Department of Health and Social Care, The Rt Hon David Gauke MP, and The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP (2017). Strategy seeks one million more Disabled people in work by 2027. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/strategy-seeks-one-million-more-Disabled-people-in-work-by-2027 [Accessed 16 Sep. 2018].

53 The Minister said: “I am really pleased to announce today that we have created a new inter-ministerial working group to bring the full force of the Government behind ensuring that every Disabled person in our country has the ability to reach their full potential.” DDPOs have no other information than this:

Hansard.parliament.uk. (2018). Oral Answers to Questions – Hansard. [online] Available at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-05-21/debates/C9F3BE31-D224-4098-B796-C1E05765341E/OralAnswersToQuestions [Accessed 16 Sep. 2018].

54 Some DDPOs have attempted to educate local authorities about Article 19 directly. There is limited evidence of this being successful as local authorities struggling with funding cuts are mostly defensive against any suggestions for improvement. Adult social care practice is now routinely in breach of Article 19 due to funding constraints but no one is prepared to accept responsibility for this with frontline practitioners blaming local government managers, who blame central government, who in turn blame local government.

55 Inclusion Scotland have met with the Scotland-based Independent Mechanism organisations who have agreed that they will approach Scottish Government to ask that this be set up.

56 We understand that Scottish Government are currently considering publication of an update on their delivery plan but they have not engaged with Deaf and Disabled people to gather our assessment of delivery and ‘transformational change’, so that this can be taken into account.

57 Inquiry concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, carried out by the Committee under article 6 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention.

We documented in follow up submissions to the inquiry last year how the UKG dismissed the findings of the Committee and rejected all eleven recommendations. They failed to disseminate the Committee’s findings and recommendations in any way. Then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Damian Green, publicly described the Committee’s Report as demonstrating “an outdated view of disability which is patronising and offensive”:

https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/UN-inquiry-response-DPACIL-Final-1.doc page 10

58 In October 2017 then Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Penny Mordaunt stated “I will set out our long-term reporting plans shortly”, but this has yet to happen:

Hansard.parliament.uk. (2017). UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. [online] Available at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-10-12/debates/A20CF46E-116A-47B2-BA33-11CAA47B3FC0/UNConventionOnTheRightsOfPersonsWithDisabilities [Accessed 17 Sep. 2018]

59 Recommendation (k) of the inquiry report was that the report be disseminated; paragraphs 74 and 77 of the Concluding Observations recommend wide transmission of those Concluding Observations to “Government and Parliament, officials in relevant ministries, devolved administrations, Crown Dependencies, Overseas Territories, local authorities, organizations of persons with disabilities and members of relevant professional groups, such as education, medical and legal professionals, as well as to the media, using modern social communication strategies” and dissemination to “non-governmental organizations and representative organizations of persons with disabilities, and to persons with disabilities themselves”.

60 Hansard.parliament.uk (2018). UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. [online] Available at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-06-20/debates/67B003C3-EE0D-4394-A7F9-D46DBBCC557D/UNConventionOnTheRightsOfPersonsWithDisabilities [Accessed 17 Sep. 2018]

61 The evidence cited for the success of their approach is an additional 600,000 Disabled people in employment.

62 In a debate on the UNCRPD called by an opposition MP in the House of Commons, then Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Penny Mordaunt focused her contribution largely on DFID’s work. She said: “As I turn to the domestic agenda… I want to emphasise that I am keen to promote what we are doing because it is a catalyst for change elsewhere in the world.” She also referenced what she described as “the factual inaccuracies” of the Concluding Observations:

Hansard.parliament.uk (2017) UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities. [online] Available at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2017-10-12/debates/A20CF46E-116A-47B2-BA33-11CAA47B3FC0/UNConventionOnTheRightsOfPersonsWithDisabilities [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

63 The EHRC and civil society organisations have urged the UKG to implement the recommendations from the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Concluding Observations. The response received by Sir Oliver Heald QC MP was that although the Committee report and recommendations provide “valuable guidance” they cannot “extend, by interpretation, the international obligations contained within the Covenant” and that it would not be “appropriate” to “pre-empt” the response from the UKG to the UN at the next examination, due in June 2021:

EHRC (2018). International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. [online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/our-human-rights-work/monitoring-and-promoting-un-treaties/international-covenant-economic-social [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

64 EHRC (2018). Progress on socio-economic rights in Great Britain. [online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publication-download/progress-socio-economic-rights-great-britain [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

65 A junior justice minister whose responsibilities include human rights, appeared to dismiss calls for the government to do more to protect the social and economic rights of Disabled people and other groups and to suggest that “the realities of the world” mean the government cannot afford to meet the report’s call for action on the rights laid out in the covenant. Organisations involved in writing this submission were present at the event, which is covered in the following news article:

Pring, J. (2018) Minister suggests ‘realities of the world’ mean government will not halt attack on rights. [online] Disability News Service. Available at: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/minister-suggests-realities-of-the-world-mean-government-will-not-halt-attack-on-rights/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

66 “that the State party, in close cooperation and collaboration with organizations of persons with disabilities, initiate a process to implement and follow-up the recommendations issued by the Committee on its report adopted pursuant to proceedings under article 6 of the Optional Protocol”.

67 We wrote as the “UK DPO CRPD Monitoring Coalition” which is a coalition of DDPOs from across the UK and involves all the DDPOs who were involved in the shadow reporting process in 2017 and others who have been co-opted to ensure we are representative of different impairment groups as well as intersectional identities.

68 In Geneva on 24 August 2017 Karen Jochelson, speaking at the public examination of the UK by the UNCRPD committee said: “we have noted this dialogue’s emphasis on engaging with Disabled people and Disabled people’s organisations in decision making and policy making. We will reflect on this as we plan our next steps following publication of the concluding observations.” It is nearly one year since these remarks but only now are some English DDPOs being contacted.

69 As defined in the UNCRPD General Comment on the participation with Disabled people in the implementation and monitoring of the Convention.

70 See example 1.3 in Annex C. In this example the Department for Work and Pensions chose to engage with non-user led charities and not DDPOs. We were recently told by civil servants at DfID that the office of Disability Issues had supplied the with a list of UK disability organisations to consult over their disability framework. Only one organisation on this list could be considered a DDPO.

71 The Fulfilling Potential Forum, set up “to discuss how Disabled people can fulfil their potential”, has not met since November 2016. The Disability Action Alliance (DAA), launched by the UKG in 2012 to offer advice on the implementation of its disability policies, also appears to have been discarded, and its steering group has not met since May 2018. A third body, the Fulfilling Potential Advisory Service, which was set up alongside the forum in 2014 to provide expert advice on disability-related issues, was disbanded soon after it was launched. The UKG’s original intention was that the three bodies would replace Equality 2025, its high-level committee of Disabled advisors, which was ended in 2013:

Pring, J. (2018) Network neglect leaves government ‘closer to coercion than to coproduction’ [online] Disability News Service. Available at: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/network-neglect-leaves-government-closer-to-coercion-than-co-production/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

72We believe that Disabled people must be given a voice in the Brexit debate; Governments should address the chronic lack of accessible information available to Disabled people about the process and implications of Brexit. We continue to recommend that the UNCRPD be incorporated into Scots Law and we await the outcome of the Supreme Court ruling on the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill. Inclusion Scotland (2017). Plotting a course: Brexit and disabled people’s rights in Scotland. [ebook] Inclusion Scotland. Available at: http://www.ilis.co.uk/uploads/Brexit%20PUTT%20-%20FINAL%20report.pdf [Accessed 22 Sep. 2018].

73 For example, with debates on Deaf language rights, deaf children’s services and a BSL GCSE being brought to the House of Commons.

74 National Audit Office (2018) Rolling out Universal Credit. [online] Available at: https://www.nao.org.uk/report/rolling-out-universal-credit/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

75 As Dan Carden MP said in a debate on the UNCRPD in Parliament “Having to be part of national and local campaigns just to get basic human dignity…is outrageous.” Hansard.parliament.uk (2018) UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. [online] Available at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-06-20/debates/67B003C3-EE0D-4394-A7F9-D46DBBCC557D/UNConventionOnTheRightsOfPersonsWithDisabilities [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

76 The High Court ruled that changes to PIP regulations brought in by the UKG in March 2017 to exclude people who experience psychological distress from eligibility for support “Moving Around” and “Planning and Following a Journey” were “blatantly discriminatory”.

RF v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Available at: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2017/3375.html [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

77 When a legal challenge was brought against the introduction of a cap on Access to Work, the UKG increased the cap from 1.5x to 2x the national average salary. The legal challenge was taken on the grounds that a cap discriminated against Deaf sign language users and Disabled people with high support needs whose support costs are above the cap.

DPG Editing (2018) Access to Work Cap Challenged in High Court [online] Available at: https://dpglaw.co.uk/access-work-cap-challenged-high-court/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

Department for Work and Pensions and The Rt Hon Esther McVey (2018) Grant to support Disabled people in the workplace rises by over a third [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/grant-to-support-Disabled-people-in-the-workplace-rises-by-over-a-third [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

78 The high court ruled in favour of two Disabled men who had lost over £170 per month when they were moved onto UC. The men both previously received Severe Disability Premium (SDP). Neither SDP nor Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP) exist under UC. Transitional protection rules introduced to protect the income levels of Disabled people moving on to UC did not apply where claimants moved to UC due to a change in circumstance. For both men, the change of circumstance was moving to an area where UC had already been rolled out. The high court ruling found that the Secretary State of Work and Pensions had unlawfully discriminated against the two men. In a policy u-turn, the DWP is now consulting on new transitional protection rules which will cover Disabled people moving onto UC under a change of circumstance (“natural migration”). However, the high court did not find in favour of the claim against removal of SDP and EDP under UC and new applicants to UC will not be able to receive these additional payments:

Leigh Day (2018) First legal challenge against Universal Credit finds Government acted unlawfully [online] https://www.leighday.co.uk/News/News-2018/June-2018/First-legal-challenge-against-Universal-Credit-fin [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

R (TP and AR) -v- Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Universal Credit) [online] https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/r-tp-and-ar-v-secretary-of-state-for-work-and-pensions-universal-credit/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

hansard.parliament.uk (2008) Universal Credit. [online] https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-06-07/debates/18060727000016/UniversalCredit [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

79 Back-payments for up to 70,000 Disabled people who were underpaid when they were moved from incapacity benefit (IB) to ESA will be backdated to the date that they moved to ESA. The announcement follows legal action from the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) which challenged the Department’s original decision to limit backdating of the arrears to 2014, the date of a tribunal decision. The underpayments arose following an error by DWP staff:

CPAG (2018) CPAG legal action leads to full arrears for Disabled claimants. [online] Available at: http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/cpag-legal-action-leads-to-full-arrears-Disabled-claimants [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

80 In the judgment on the first bedroom tax legal challenge Lord Justice Laws said: “In my judgment, Ms Markus’ [barrister for the claimants] criticisms are misplaced. They amount to an attempt to persuade the court to “micro-manage” the policy-making process.”:

MA & Ors V Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [online] Available at: https://www.leighday.co.uk/LeighDay/media/LeighDay/documents/Bedroom%20tax/MA—ors-v-Secretary-of-State-for-Work-and-Pensions-QBD-30-7-13.pdf?ext=.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

81 And is dependent on individuals who are disadvantaged having the courage and support to go through the gruelling experience of taking legal action.

82 National Audit Office (2018) Rolling out Universal Credit. [online] Available at: https://www.nao.org.uk/report/rolling-out-universal-credit/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

83 The inquiry report states: “Trust is fundamental to the overall running of a successful society. Likewise, trust in the assessment systems is essential to PIP and ESA functioning effectively. …We heard much to suggest the Department is falling short on meeting this objective.”

Publications.parliament.uk. (2017). [online] Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/829/829.pdf [Accessed 22 Sep. 2018]. paragraphs 8-9

84 A per paragraph 33 of the General Comment on article 4.3 and 33.3 of the Convention, on the participation with persons with disabilities in the implementation and monitoring of the Convention.

85 The Scotland Act 2016 gave Scotland new devolved powers over social security, including for certain benefits. When the changes take effect (from 2018) budgets of, and power over, 11 benefits affecting 1.4 million people will be gradually transferred to Scotland. Scottish Government closely involved Inclusion Scotland, and other DPPOs, in developing the new Scottish Social Security legislation, anti-poverty legislation and implementation. DDPOs were represented on both the Expert Group on Carers and Disability Benefits and the new Child Poverty Commission. We have also regularly participated in several Scottish Government Social Security stakeholder, reference and working groups in regards to policy making and implementation.

86 DDPOs posit that this has potential to be hugely influential, and to partially overcome the lack of suitable influence and engagement mechanisms in the wider Health and Social Care Integration framework.

87 Including on rights to advocacy support, accessible communication, an independent scrutiny commission, discontinuing unnecessary face to face assessments, and assessments not being carried out by the private sector.

88 Particularly for people who are Deaf or have learning disabilities.

89 Some directorates do have good intentions and attempt to plan around inclusion, some respond to requests and others effectively ignore advice and requests. In many cases we are disenfranchised from commenting on, advising and steering in many policy spheres. In particular, people who require Easy-Read, British/Irish Sign Language or other communication support are left without accessible and timely information and are thus prevented from contributing. Seminars are organised without recourse to accessibility and inclusivity. Offers to support DDPOs to run seminars do not usually take account of the higher costs of accessibility and the difficulty in estimating these prior to an event to satisfy budgeting requirements.

90 See paragraph 3.3.

91 New research shows a six-fold increase in children and young people stating they have a mental health condition over the last two decades. More investment is needed to ensure all children and young people needing support can access it:

NHS Confederation (2018) Research shows it is crucial to invest in children and young people’s services, says Mental Health Network. [online] Available at: http://www.nhsconfed.org/media-centre/2018/09/research-shows-it-is-crucial-to-invest-in-children-and-young-people-services [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

The number of referrals by schools in England seeking mental health treatment for pupils has risen by more than a third in the last three years. In almost a third of all referrals for which data was available, the child in question was denied specialist treatment. The number of schools seeking professional help for students from NHS child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) was 34,757 in 2017-18, compared to 25,140 in 2014-15:

NSPCC (2018) School referrals for mental health treatment rise by over a third [online] Available at: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-we-do/news-opinion/one-third-increase-in-school-referrals-for-mental-health-treatment/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

92 While increasing reliance on young carers to replace state-funded social care support will negatively impact on the futures of those young people, for example, through missing education to undertake caring responsibilities. Government figures in January 2018 revealed that the number of recognised young carers in the UK has risen by more than 10,000 in four years:

Bulman, M. (2018) Number of young carers in UK soars by 10,000 in four years, figures show [online] Independent. Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/young-carers-uk-numbers-rise-figures-support-family-social-care-benefits-community-a8177806.html [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

93 Legislation.gov.uk (2018) The Community Care (Personal Care and Nursing Care) (Scotland) Amendment (No.2) Regulations 2018 [online] Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2018/200/made [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

94 The Community Care (Personal Care and Nursing Care) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 2) Regulations 2018 https://blogs.bmj.com/bmjopen/2017/11/15/health-and-social-care-spending-cuts-linked-to-120000-excess-deaths-in-england/

95 Analysis of NHS statistics published by Disability News Service showed that in 2007 – a year before the introduction of the WCA – 21% of incapacity benefit (IB) claimants told researchers they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives. The following year, IB began to be replaced by ESA, eligibility tested by the WCA. By 2014, more than 43% of claimants were saying they had attempted suicide:

Pring, J. (2017) ‘Staggering’ ESA suicide figures prompt calls for inquiry and prosecution of ministers [online] Disability News Service. Available at: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/staggering-esa-suicide-figures-prompt-calls-for-inquiry-and-prosecution-of-ministers/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

96 September 2018.

97 Youle, E. (2018) Post-it notes reveal anguish of Disabled man who killed himself after £20 benefit cut [online] Huffington Post. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/austerity-disability-mark-barber_uk_5b88f4ace4b0511db3d6b768 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

98 Waldron, B. (2018) Man took his own life with a crossbow as his home was about to be repossessed, inquest is told [online] Derby Telegraph https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/burton/steven-arnold-burton-inquest-1975976 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

99 It is assumed that this is due to a combination of inadequate data and the fact that such evidence that does exist concerns the adverse and retrogressive impacts of measures.

100 The cover letter makes frequent reference to living “independently” in a sense which is different from the concept of independent living set out in Article 19. It also sets out measures being taken to address the needs of autistic people within a section headed “Health”, indicating a medical model rather than social model/human rights understanding of neurodiversity.

101 The section in the cover letter on “Equity and Dialogue” avoids any commitment to engaging with DDPOs who are only specifically mentioned under the section on transport.

102 Only Disabled people with a SEN statement or EHCP will only be eligible – making up only about 3% of the SEND population therefore very few will benefit. Many Disabled students and pupils with dyslexia, Autism and learning difficulties will not benefit from the adjustment. We do not yet know what the assessment arrangements will be:

UKG (2018) Statistics: special educational needs (SEN) [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/statistics-special-educational-needs-sen [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

103 Increasing numbers of Disabled pupils are being refused EHCPs, denying them access to education, health and care support. Disabled pupils are being placed in Residential Special Schools because of LA unwillingness and inability to provide the support they need to live at home and within their communities:

Dame Christine Lenehan (2017) These are our children. [online] https://www.ncb.org.uk/sites/default/files/field/attachment/These%20are%20Our%20CHildren_Lenehan_Review_Report.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

104 Rail Delivery Group (2015) London Turn Up and Go trial for Disabled passengers. [online] Available at: https://www.raildeliverygroup.com/media-centre/press-releases/2015/190-2015-05-11.html [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

105 ABCommuters (2018) Exposed: Disabled access cover up at the Department for Transport. [online] Available at: https://abcommuters.wordpress.com/2018/07/25/exposed-Disabled-access-cover-up-at-the-dft/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

106 Sir Peter Hendy (2015) Replanning Network Rail’s investment programme. [online] Available at: https://www.networkrail.co.uk/who-we-are/publications-resources/our-plans-for-the-future/the-hendy-review/ p138 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

107 Department for Transport and Nusrat Ghani MP (2018) Response to advice on the use of wheelchair spaces onboard buses. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/response-to-advice-on-the-use-of-wheelchair-spaces-onboard-buses [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

108 Pring, J. (2018) Government ‘discriminated against DPOs’ in awarding £29m development programme [online] Disability News Service. Available at: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/government-discriminated-against-dpos-in-awarding-29m-development-programme/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

109 EHRC (2018) The cumulative impact of tax and welfare reforms [online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publication-download/cumulative-impact-tax-and-welfare-reforms [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

110 Pring, J. (2014) Ministers humiliated over cumulative impact assessment. [online] Disability News Service. Available at: http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/ministers-humiliated-over-cumulative-impact-assessment/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

111 RF V Secretary of State for Work and Pensions: ADMN 21 Dec 2017

112 See Annex C for more information about concerns regarding the Mental Capacity (Amendment) bill and Annex D for DDPO experiences in raising concerns about the independent review of the Mental Health Act and resistance from the review chair to compliance with the UNCRPD.

113 R(Davey) v Oxfordshire [2017] EWHC 354 at [44] – [46] and approved in [2017] EWCA 1308

114 A survey published in October 2017 on increasing use of Payment Cards by Councils to administer Direct Payments, found that LAs can view transactions made by Disabled people by accessing the client’s account online. The use of money on the cards is often tightly controlled and LAs may suspend the use of a card if they do not approve of how a Disabled person is using it. More than a million pounds a year is spent on fees and costs to operate the cards. The number of Disabled people on pre-payment cards is set to increase rapidly:

Independent Living Strategy Group (2017) Payment cards in adult social care: A National Overview 2017. [online] http://www.in-control.org.uk/news/in-control-news/payment-cards-in-direct-payments-must-not-undermine-choice-and-control.aspx [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

115 Increasing use of “strength-based” approaches are explicitly about saving money as Warrington Council papers confirm. The aim of the approach is to identify resources such as friends, family members and community groups who can replace state-funded support. The result is to deny Disabled people the same opportunities to be included in the community with choice and control over our own lives.

Warrington Borough Council (2018) Executive Board – 10 September 2018. [online] https://bit.ly/2NstKXd page 6 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

116 For example, in 2018 thirteen CCGs agreed to review their NHS Continuing Healthcare policies following the threat of legal action by the EHRC. The u-turn resolved almost eight months of disagreements between CCGs across the UK over their unlawful NHS Continuing Healthcare (NHS CHC) policies. This followed research carried out by Disabled campaigners into CCG “care capping” policies (which breach the Care Act 2014), that revealed 43 CCGs with policies of concern were initially contacted by the EHRC.

117 This was reduced by nearly £30 a week despite widespread opposition including two rebellions by the House of Lords.

118 Department for Work and Pensions, Department of Health and Social Care, the Rt Hon David Gauke MP and the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP (2017) Improving lives: the future of work, health and disability [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/improving-lives-the-future-of-work-health-and-disability [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

119Work and Pensions Committee (2018) Oral Evidence: Disability Employment, HC 1147 [online] Available at: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/work-and-pensions-committee/disability-employment/oral/86763.html [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

120 EDP and SDP currently give Disabled people with high support needs living alone £15.90 and £62.45 weekly respectively, in addition to a weekly ESA Support Group rate of £109.65. Neither exists under UC. Instead claimants meeting these criteria will receive a standard weekly UC payment of £73.34 plus a “Limited capacity for work and work related activity” supplement of £73.56. This is a total of £146.90 which is £41.10 less than the ESA Support Group rate + EDP + SDP (£188).

121 A judicial review, which was lost by the claimant, took place on 26 and 27 June 2018 at the High Court.

122 Research published in June 2018 showed that despite provision of extra government funding, social care services are on the verge of collapse in some areas of England. The report states councils “cannot go on” without a sustainable long-term funding strategy to underpin social care, and warns continuing cuts to budgets risk leaving thousands of people who need care being left without services. It revealed that English councils plan to push through social care cuts of £700m in 2018-19, equivalent to nearly 5% of the total £14.5bn budget. Since 2010, social care spending in England has shrunk by £7bn. Half of LAs overspent on adult social care budgets in 2017-18, with half of these drawing on council reserves to meet the overspend:

ADASS (2018) ADASS Budget Survey 2018 [online] Available at: https://www.adass.org.uk/media/6434/adass-budget-survey-report-2018.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

123 Through the Improved Better Care Fund, the adult social care precept and two one-off adult social care grants. In total, these amount to an extra £2.3 billion in 2017/18, £1.0 billion in 2018/19 and £0.35 billion in 2019/20.

124 48 directors say they have seen home care providers closing or ceasing to trade in the last six months (impacting on 3,290 people) and 44 directors had contracts handed back by home care providers (impacting on 2,679 people) in the same period. Directors’ biggest concern about the impact of savings made or planned is the prospect of providers facing financial difficulty (expected in 2018/19 by three quarters of directors) and quality challenges (expected in 2018/19 by two thirds of directors). 78% of directors are concerned about their ability to meet the statutory duty to ensure market sustainability within existing budgets.

Ibid.

125 It is to be expected that under a new two- rather than three-tier system there would be increase in the percentages of both the highest and lowest awards.

126 See footnote 21.

127 PIP claimants may be entitled to extra money on top of existing benefits, as well as a reduction in council tax or road tax bills and discounts on travel.

128 Of the 51,000 taken off, more than 3,000 people have since rejoined the Motability scheme after original decisions to refuse them PIP were overturned. However, they will have lost their vehicles while their appeals took place:

BBC (2017) Thousands have disability vehicles taken away [online] BBC. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-39575293 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

129 Since the Royal National Institute for the Blind threatened legal action in 2014:

Malik, S. and Wintour, P. (2014) RNIB threatens DWP with court action for failing to cater for blind [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/feb/19/rnib-dwp-blind-court-action-benefits [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

130 As unqualified interpreters, or too few interpreters have been provided. While this is purely an illustrative observation, the reality is that that an infrequently convened taskforce is an inadequate substitute for consistent procedural access provision.

131 One individual has now won three legal challenges against different government departments over failures to make reasonable adjustments for information provision:

Norris, R. (2018) Campaigner defeats third government department on accessible information [online] DisabledGo. Available at: https://www.Disabledgo.com/blog/2018/07/campaigner-defeats-third-government-department-on-accessible-information/#.W5rse_ZFzIU [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

132 For example, the NHS Accessible Information Standard guidelines – https://www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/accessibleinfo/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

133 In 2011, 61% of Disabled people lived in households with internet access, compared to 86% of non-Disabled people. According to 2018 figures from the ONS, 20% of Disabled people have never used the internet:

ONS (2018) Statistical Bulletin: Internet users: UK, 2018 [online] Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/businessindustryandtrade/itandinternetindustry/bulletins/internetusers/2018 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

134 GDS themselves set up the online account system called “Verify”.

135 Glick, B. (2018) Thousands of Universal Credit claimants unable to use Gov.uk Verify to apply for benefits. [online] Computer Weekly. Available at: https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252434188/Thousands-of-Universal-Credit-claimants-unable-to-use-Govuk-Verify-to-apply-for-benefits [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

136 Figures cited by the Work and Pensions Committee in their inquiry report into ESA and PIP assessments show that of the almost one million MRs of PIP and ESA decisions since 2013, 82% of PIP MRs and 89% of ESA MRs upheld the original decision:

House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee (2018) PIP and ESA Assessments [online] Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/829/829.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

Latest figures from January to March 2018 show the rate for assessment decisions overturned at appeal to be 71% for PIP and 70% for ESA:

Ministry of Justice (2018) Official statistics: tribunals and gender recognition certificates statistics statistics quarterly: January to March 2018. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/tribunals-and-gender-recognitions-certificates-statistics-quarterly-january-to-march-2018 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

137 www.parliament.uk (2018) PIP and ESA Assessments [online] Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/829/82908.htm [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

138 The family of an autistic man with learning difficulties took legal action on his behalf, against the Department for Transport (DfT) and their local council, after he was told he no longer qualified for a Blue Badge because of the new DfT guidance. It was argued that DfT’s apparent failure to carry out a proper consultation on the new guidance was a breach of its PSED under the Equality Act 2010, and was disability discrimination. DfT backed down, promising a review to “look at how the scheme works for people with non-physical disabilities”. The high number of responses to the consultation indicates the numbers adversely impacted and keen to see the changed guidance reversed. The recent announcement that this will take place is very welcome:

Pring, J. (2016) Government agrees to review ‘discriminatory’ blue badge guidance [online] DisabledGo https://www.Disabledgo.com/blog/2016/10/government-agrees-to-review-discriminatory-blue-badge-guidance/#.W5r2ZfZFzIV [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

Department for Transport (2018) Policy paper – Blue badge consultation: summary of responses and government response [online] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/blue-badge-Disabled-parking-scheme-eligibility-consultation-summary-of-responses-and-outcome/blue-badge-consultation-summary-of-responses-and-government-response [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

139 Marsh, P. (2017) “There is still lots of stigma around mental health” [online] Available at: https://blog.scope.org.uk/2017/11/06/there-is-still-lots-of-stigma-around-mental-health/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

Another useful, as yet unpublished report related to mental distress is the user-led, co-produced Keeping Control study which explored hate crime, discrimination and abuse against people with mental health diagnoses: Carr, S, Cohen, R, Faulkner, A, Gould, D, Hafford-Letchfield, T, Khisa, C and Megele, C. (2018) Keeping Control Research Study: Participant Findings Summary, SSCR (Unpublished). The findings demonstrate that hate crime, discrimination and abuse are all too prevalent, still more for people from marginalized communities.

140 Petitions Committee (2017) Inquiry: Online abuse and the experience of Disabled people [online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/petitions-committee/inquiries/parliament-2017/online-abuse-17-19/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

Inclusion London (2018) Inclusion London’s evidence to the Commons Petitions Committee’s inquiry on online abuse and the experience of Disabled people [online] Available at: https://www.inclusionlondon.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Inclusion-London-evidence-inquiry-online-abuse-Disabled-people-Amended-Final.doc [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

141 Turner, M. (2018) Tory founded YouGov under fire for questioning whether benefit claimants should be allowed to vote [online] Available at: https://evolvepolitics.com/tory-owned-yougov-under-fire-for-questioning-whether-benefit-claimants-should-be-allowed-to-vote/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

142 Also certain ethnic groups, women, and particularly negative impacts on intersectional groups who experience multiple disadvantages (for example, lone parents with Disabled children). On average, Disabled lone parents with at least one Disabled child fare to lose almost three of every ten pounds of their net income; almost £10,000 per year. Around one and a half million more children are forecast to be living in households below the relative poverty line as a result of the reforms:

EHRC (2018) The cumulative impact of tax and welfare reforms [online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/cumulative-impact-assessment-report.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

143 Age UK (2017) Briefing: Health and Care of Older People in England 2017 [online] Available at: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/documents/EN-GB/For-professionals/Research/The_Health_and_Care_of_Older_People_in_England_2016.pdf?epslanguage=en-GB?dtrk=true [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

144 The Health Foundation (2017) The social care funding gap: implications for local health care reform [online] Available at: https://www.health.org.uk/publication/social-care-funding-gap-implications-local-health-care-reform [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

145 See Annex B.

146 This is despite the findings of the EHRC’s Housing Inquiry, and Disabled people’s solutions and the report of the Annual Disabled People’s Summit ‘Our Place Our Space’:

Inclusion Scotland (2017) We Say: Our place, Our space. [online] Available at: http://inclusionscotland.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/6324-ILIS-Summit-Report.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

The Housing Minister is on record as saying that he will not countenance ‘arbitrary targets’ despite unequivocal evidence of current and projected need (17,000 today and projected to rise by 80% by 2025).

147 Unlike the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Principles on Older People.

148 It was initially promised before the end of June 2018:

Parliament. Uk (2017) Social Care Update: written statement – HCWS258 [online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2017-11-16/HCWS258/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

149 See Annex C.

150 By removing the current restriction that it applies only to those over 65.

151 ADASS (2018) ADASS Budget survey 2018 [online] Available at: https://www.adass.org.uk/media/6434/adass-budget-survey-report-2018.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

152 Government plans to abolish general grant funding for councils from 2020 – meaning councils will depend on council tax and business rates for the vast majority of their general funding.

IFS (2018) Adult social care funding: a local or national responsibility? [online] Available at: https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/12857 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

153 Ashford Borough Council featured in the news for its good practice in expanding its DFG scheme and virtually abolishing waiting times. Due to the current financial circumstances of many councils, it is unlikely that this will be widely replicated.

Ashford Borough Council (2018) Council initiative virtually abolishes waiting times for Disabled Facility Grants assessments in Ashford; scheme expanded so more people will benefit. [online] Available at: https://www.ashford.gov.uk/whats-on/news/council-initiative-virtually-abolishes-waiting-times-for-Disabled-facility-grants-assessments-in-ashford-scheme-expanded-so-more-people-will-benefit/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

154 The AWI accessible information was produced 5 weeks after the main consultation document and, like many so-called accessible or Easy-Read versions, did not cover or explain the main points of the Government proposals or offer any analysis to help people understand the proposals. It was written in such an Easy-Read way that every proposal was simply presented as “a good thing” to invite agreement and acceptance.

155 Initiatives looking at future funding for social care, including a Citizen’s Assembly which fed into a joint report by the Health and Social Care and Housing, Communities and Local Government, found that a significant proportion of the public in England believe that social care is free on the same basis as the NHS. Attempts by Government to reform the system to lower the levels that individuals must pay towards their own care traditionally experience a backlash because they are mistakenly viewed as attempts to introduce rather limit charges. A necessary step towards reform must be public education, yet Governments are reluctant to expose the realities:

Communities and Local Government Select Committee (2018) Long term funding of adult social care [online] Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcomloc/768/76810.htm#_idTextAnchor124 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

156 The Labour Force Survey two-quarter longitudinal dataset shows inflows and outflows that demonstrate that for every 100 Disabled people who move into work, 114 move out of work (for non-Disabled people, only 97 move out of work for every 100 that move in). Based on current rates of inflows and outflows, if one million Disabled people were to move into work, then 1,140,000 would move out of employment:

Office for National Statistics, Social Survey Division (2018) Labour Force Survey Two-Quarter Longitudinal Dataset, October 2017 – March 2018. [data collection] UK Data Service. SN: 8344, Available at: http://doi.org/10.5255/UKDA-SN-8344-1 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

157 Department for Work and Pensions (2018) Family Resources Survey. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/family-resources-survey–2 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

158 ONS (2018) User requested data: Number of employed people with Disabled or non-Disabled status by basic economic activity and full-time or part-time work, UK April 2009 to March 2018. [online] Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/adhocs/009015numberofemployedpeoplewithDisabledornonDisabledstatusbybasiceconomicactivityandfulltimeorparttimeworkukapril2009tomarch2018 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

159 Wheatley, H. (2017) New Research: More than half of self employed not earning a decent living [online] Available at: https://neweconomics.org/2017/08/self_employed_not_earning [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

160 The “joint departmental unit between the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health and Social Care” referred to in paragraph 54 of the UKG Follow Up report.

161 This paper by Lynne Friedli and Robert Stearn describes the coercive and punitive nature of many psycho-policy interventions and considers the implications of psycho-policy for the disadvantaged and excluded populations who are its primary targets:

Friedli, L. and Stearn, R. (2015) ‘Positive affect as coercive strategy: conditionality, activation and the role of psychology in UK government workfare programmes’ in Medical Humanities [online] Available at: https://mh.bmj.com/content/41/1/40.full [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

162 The IAPT project was funded because it was framed as getting people back to work and saving money in terms of greater tax dividends:

Layard, R. (2012) Mental health: The new frontier for the welfare state [online] Available at: http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/47418/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

However, it has failed to live up to its evidence-base – e.g. half of ‘low intensity’ CBT patients relapse in twelve months – and the outcomes are even worse in areas of high deprivation:

IAPT (2016) Psychological Therapies: Annual Report on the use of IAPT services, 2015-16 [online] Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/news-and-events/news-archive/2016-news-archive/mental-illness-recovery-linked-with-deprivation-report-finds [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

To try to mask this problem, the government have doubled the number of EA workers at the expense of what service users want which, even in IAPT, is overwhelmingly a personalised, flexible approach where the goals are not preordained by services:

Hamilton, S., Hicks, A., Sayers, R., Faulkner, A., Larsen, J., Patterson, S., & Pinfold, V. (2011) Report for Commissioning Support for London. [online] Available at: https://www.rethink.org/resources/a/a-user-focused-evaluation-of-iapt-services-in-london [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

There have always been problems in IAPT with putting the goals of service users first as the programme is based on rigid treatment protocols, but now both IAPT staff and service users report increasing pressure to privilege work as a health outcome:

Watts, J. (2016) IAPT and the ideal image’ in Lees, J. ed. The Future of Psychological Therapy. Abingdon: Routledge.

The doubling of EA advisors will only serve to double this pressure (psychocompulsion) on service users, especially in a wider context where co-location of mental health and DWP services is becoming a new norm. Claimants are sanctioned for failing to follow the ‘work and health’ claimant commitment central to UC, making meaningful consent difficult. It also represents a prioritisation on employment outcomes over services that provide support with complex traumas and save lives. This doubling of funding for EA advisors comes at the time where funding for other mental health services, including talking therapies for people with distressing psychosis or chronic trauma, have been decimated:

UKCP and BPC (2015) Quality Psychotherapy Services [online] Available at: https://www.bpc.org.uk/sites/psychoanalytic-council.org/files/Summary%20findings%20from%20NHS%20survey.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

Placing the funding with EA advisors removes funding from other services with a more established evidence-base. In one recent example, Camden Clinical Care Commissioning Group withdrew funding from a Citizens Advice Bureau GP outreach programme which was demonstrably effective and highly valued by service users and health providers. Coincidentally, it was simultaneously forced – through proposals set out in the Improving Lives green paper to fund the doubling of (far less evidence-based) EA advisors, despite local protest:

Citizens Advice Bureau (2017) Impact and Evaluation of GP Advice Service in Camden [online] Available at: http://www.camdencabservice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Impact-and-Evaluation-of-GP-Advice-Service-in-Camden-August-2017-vFINAL.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

163 Paragraph 59 of the UKG follow-up report.

164 Most were awarded to partnerships of non-DDPOs and a private company was awarded two contracts.

165 EHRC (2017) Measuring Up? Monitoring and enforcement [online] Available at: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/public-sector-equality-duty-scotland/scotland-public-sector-equality-duty-projects/measuring [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

167 Publications.parliament.uk (2012) Daily Hansard [online] Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201212/ldhansrd/text/120117-0001.htm [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

168 Public and Commercial Services Union (2018) PCS survey results for staff working on Universal Credit [online] Available at: https://www.pcs.org.uk/department-for-work-and-pensions/news/pcs-survey-results-for-staff-working-on-universal-credit [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

169 Once account is taken of the higher costs faced by those who are Disabled, half of people living in poverty are either themselves Disabled or are living with a Disabled person in their household. There are 4.2 million Disabled people living in poverty; 29% of all people living in poverty. Of these, 2.8 million are working age adults, 1.1 million are pension age and 320,000 are children. After housing costs, the proportion of working age adults living in poverty (28%) is higher than the proportion of non-Disabled working age adults (18%). 30% of people who live in households with Disabled members live in poverty compared to 19% of those who do not:

Tinson, A., Ayrton, C., Barker, K., Born, T.B., Aldridge, H., Kenway, P. (2016) Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2016 [online] Available at: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/monitoring-poverty-and-social-exclusion-2016 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

Department for Work and Pensions (2017) National Statistics: Households Below National Income: 1994/95 to 2015/16 [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/households-below-average-income-199495-to-201516 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

Barnard, H. (2017) UK Poverty 2017 [online] Available at: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/uk-poverty-2017 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

170 Loopstra, R. & Lalor, D. (2017) Financial insecurity, food insecurity and disability [online] Available at: https://trusselltrust.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/06/OU_Report_final_01_08_online.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

171 Paragraph 100.

173 Topple, S. (2018) The DWP has finally revealed it has cut Disabled people’s benefits. Here’s by how much. [online] Available at: https://www.thecanary.co/uk/analysis/2018/09/15/the-dwp-has-finally-revealed-it-has-cut-Disabled-peoples-benefits-heres-by-how-much/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

174 Department for Work and Pensions

175 National Audit Office (2018) Rolling out Universal Credit. [online] Available at: https://www.nao.org.uk/report/rolling-out-universal-credit/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

176 The challenge was brought by two severely Disabled men, TP and AR, who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they moved Local Authority and were required to claim UC. Recently released figures from the DWP suggest that 500,000 individuals are in receipt of the SDP. Delivering the judgment, Mr Justice Lewis said: “There appears to have been no consideration of the desirability or justification for requiring [the men] to assume the entirety of the difference between income-related benefits under the former system and universal credit when their housing circumstances change and it is an appropriate moment to transfer them to universal credit. That is all the more striking given the government’s own statements over a number of years that such persons may need assistance and that there was a need to define with precision the circumstances in which they would not receive such assistance. The implementing arrangements do at present give rise to unlawful discrimination [contrary to the European convention on human rights].”

Leigh Day (2018) First legal challenge against Universal Credit finds Government acted unlwafully [online] Available at: https://www.leighday.co.uk/News/News-2018/June-2018/First-legal-challenge-against-Universal-Credit-fin [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

R (TP and AR) -v- Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Universal Credit) [online] Available at: https://www.judiciary.uk/judgments/r-tp-and-ar-v-secretary-of-state-for-work-and-pensions-universal-credit/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

177 Butler, P. (2018) Government to pay thousands to Disabled men who had benefits cut [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jul/31/government-to-pay-thousands-to-Disabled-men-over-benefits-discrimination-universal-credit [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

178 UK Government (2018) Universal Credit (Transitional Provisions) (Managed Migration) Amendment Regulations 2018 [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/718579/uc-transitional-regs-2018.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

179 A survey carried out by the Disability Benefits Consortium before the £30 per week ESA WRAG cut took place found that 60% of 1,755 respondents said the amount of ESA they received was not enough to live on. When asked about the consequences of this, 62% said they struggled to stay healthy, 49% said they could not pay bills, 36% could not afford taxis to medical appointments, and 32% said they could not afford to eat:

Disability Benefits Consortium (2015) Almost 70% of Disabled people say cuts to ESA will cause their health to suffer and half may return to work later [online] Available at: |https://disabilitybenefitsconsortium.wordpress.com/2015/10/27/almost-70-of-Disabled-people-say-cuts-to-esa-will-cause-their-health-to-suffer-and-half-may-return-to-work-later/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

180 The Work and Pensions ESA and PIP assessment inquiry found evidence of “systematic poor quality” of assessment reports, and how the DWP has struggled throughout the current PIP and ESA contracts to ensure that reports are of sufficient quality to enable accurate decision-making.

House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee (2018) PIP and ESA Assessments [online] Available at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmworpen/829/829.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

Government figures released in May 2018 suggest that tens of thousands of ESA benefit claims could have been decided by civil servants on evidence from assessment reports that should have been rejected because their quality was “unacceptable.”

Pring, J. (2018) DWP figures on ‘unacceptable’ WCA reports cast doubt on decisions made on tens of thousands of ESA claims [online] Disability News Service. Available at: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/dwp-figures-on-unacceptable-wca-reports-cast-doubt-on-decisions-made-on-tens-of-thousands-of-esa-claims/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

181 The Work and Pensions Committee inquiry found that neither PIP assessment contractor has, at any point in the PIP contract, met the performance target of 3% of reports deemed “unacceptable”. Capita’s own auditing found that at points in the contract almost 60% of its reports were “unacceptable”.

House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee (2017) ATOS, Maximus and Capita questioned on ‘gruelling’ medial assessments [online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2017/atos-maximus-capita-medicals-17-19/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

182 Based on current quotations from two different large BSL tuition companies (CityLit and Remark!) at time of writing, a two-parent family have to pay between £10,000-£14,000 purely in tuition to reach a level 6 in BSL (the highest examination grade, and benchmark for fluency).

183 Barnard, H. (2018) Poverty in Wales 2018 [online] Available at: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/poverty-wales-2018 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

184 Spencer, C. (2018) £87m hole as almost a third of DLA claimants refused PIP [online] BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-45100070 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

185 See comments at paragraph 9, also Annex D for refusal by the DWP to engage with DDPOs over this issue.

186 See Footnote 3.

187 Pigott, P. (2018) Wales’ care home system in ‘crisis’ as concerns ‘quadruple’ [online] Available at: BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-45422608 [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

188 Baumberg Geiger, B. (2018) A Better WCA is possible [online] Available at: https://www.demos.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/2018_A_Better_WCA_is_possible_FULL-4.pdf [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

189 In its November 2016 report, the NAO recommended that the government use its own data to evaluate the impact of sanctions in the UK. The report states “The Department has limited evidence on how people respond to the possibility of receiving a sanction, or how large this deterrent effect is in practice” and “To show that its use of sanctions represents value for money the Department needs to build a strong evidence base about the effects of sanctions and the trade-offs involved”. As the NAO pointed out, the DWP has administrative data on individual benefit histories, sanctions and employment, and data on local sanction rates and performance which could be used. To date this recommendation has not been met:

National Audit Office (2016) Benefit sanctions [online] Available at: https://www.nao.org.uk/report/benefit-sanctions/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) found in 2017 that there were ‘significant gaps in the Department’s understanding of sanctions’ and urged it ‘to make and report progress in improving data systems, including on linking earnings outcomes to sanctions data’. Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC said “It is an article of faith for the Department for Work & Pensions that sanctions encourage people into work. The reality is far more complex and the potential consequences severe……Suspending people’s benefit payments can lead them into debt, rent arrears and homelessness, which can undermine their efforts to find work.”:

House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (2017) Benefit Sanctions inquiry [online] https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/public-accounts-committee/inquiries/parliament-2015/benefit-sanctions-16-17/ [Accessed: 17 Sep. 2018]

190 Extracts from interviews with Disabled claimants in the Employment and Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group carried out through the research can be read at Annex C of the written submission to the UN Extreme Poverty Rapporteur from the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance due to be published here on the Inclusion London website.

191 CRPD/C/GBR/CO/1 2017

192 The bill goes against the following key articles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: 12, 14, 17, 19. In 2017, in its Concluding Observations for the UK Government, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has urged the UK government to “Repealing legislation and practices that authorize non-consensual, involuntary, compulsory treatment and detention of Disabled people on the basis of actual or perceived impairment or any form of forced intervention or surgery” and “allocating appropriate funding and setting up adequate support systems to enable Disabled people to live in the community in a place of their choice”.

 Posted by at 15:36
Oct 182018
 

DWP faces nearly 60 disability discrimination tribunal cases in 20 months

The Employment Tribunal has dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by its own staff over a 20-month period, new research has shown.

A database on the Employment Tribunal website shows that, since it began publishing its findings in February 2017, it has dealt with 57 cases that include claims of disability discrimination by DWP across England, Scotland and Wales.

The website’s database appears to show that DWP (with an estimated 75,000 staff) has the worst record on disability discrimination of any large government department, with 20 cases against the Home Office (which has about 30,000 staff), 32 against the Ministry of Justice (about 70,000 staff) and 29 against HM Revenue and Customs (about 60,000 staff).

Of the 57 DWP cases published by the Employment Tribunal, about 30 were eventually withdrawn.

But a leading employment discrimination lawyer said that such cases will “almost certainly” have been withdrawn because the two sides had reached a confidential agreement.

It is not possible to produce exact numbers, but of the other cases, at least a dozen appear to be either still ongoing or to have resulted in a finding that DWP had discriminated against a disabled employee, with at least six concerning discrimination against staff with mental health conditions.

The number of well-founded allegations made by its own disabled staff should prove an embarrassment to ministers, particularly because DWP is responsible for the much-criticised Disability Confident scheme, which aims to help employers recruit and retain disabled employees.

DWP claims to be a Disability Confident “Leader”, the highest of the scheme’s three levels.

Dr Minh Alexander, a former consultant psychiatrist and NHS whistleblower, who carried out most of the research, said the figures demonstrated the department’s incompetence and showed that it did not understand disability, particularly mental health.

She decided to check the tribunal database after hearing how DWP was forcing charities delivering services on its behalf to sign contracts preventing them from attracting “adverse publicity” to the department.

She said: “It made sense that if they are were abusing their power in one area, they were abusing their power elsewhere.

I was staggered at the number of claims. Just the sheer number suggests there is likely to be an issue with DWP as an employer. They are not managing their people properly.

It goes to the heart of the agency’s competency. It just implies so much bullying.”

David Gillon, a disabled campaigner and one of the most prominent critics of the Disability Confident scheme, said: “Over and above its Disability Confident Leader status, DWP is the very hub of Disability Confident.

Its performance around disability should be an example to every other employer in the country.

Disabled people as its customers have long known this is not the case, with even DWP ministers admitting it has lost our trust; the data from the tribunal service shows that that failure extends to its own employees.”

He added: “Disability Confident, even at its most basic level, commits an employer to work with a disabled employee to retain them in employment.

A Disability Confident Leader should leave no stone unturned in seeking to keep disabled people in their jobs. Every one of these cases is an instance where DWP failed to do that.”

Gillon also pointed out that the first six months of the cases on the tribunal website were at a time when the government was still charging employees to take cases to tribunal, with fees even higher for discrimination claims.

Those fees were ruled to be unlawful by the Supreme Court in July 2017, and were subsequently scrapped, but the government’s own research had already shown that the introduction of fees in 2013 had seen the number of cases received by the tribunal falling from about 60,000 in the year to June 2013 to about 19,000 in the year to September 2015.

Gillon said this suggested that even more cases against DWP would have been taken to tribunal if it was not for the fees.

Detailed examination of some of the cases in which the tribunal ruled against DWP show at least six of them involved staff members with experience of mental distress.

Only last week, ministers hosted a global summit on mental health, where health and social care secretary Matt Hancock asked the question: “Have we done enough to tackle the stigma, prejudice and discrimination that people with mental health conditions endure?”

Hancock also announced at the summit in central London that the UK had joined Australia and Canada in launching the Alliance of Champions of Mental Health and Wellbeing.

In one case, the tribunal said DWP had produced no “satisfactory evidence” to explain why its Cumbria and Lancashire district had sacked 10 people in 2016 because of “work-related stress”.

The former employee, who described to the tribunal that the way he had been treated by DWP had been “intimidating, demoralising and offensive, degrading, humiliating”, was awarded nearly £50,000 in compensation.

In another “serious case”, a tribunal judge concluded that DWP’s behaviour was “contrary” to its own “mission statements” on supporting disabled employees in the workplace.

A third case in which the tribunal found against DWP involved a work coach with several impairments, including anxiety and depression, who had been working at a Manchester jobcentre.

The panel heard that there had been only eight people in her team when there should have been 12.

Another case saw the tribunal find that DWP had discriminated against a disabled member of staff with long-term mental ill-health, postnatal depression and arthritis, while a fifth case saw a tribunal find DWP had discriminated against a personal independence payment case manager with long-term depression.

A sixth case of disability discrimination involving an employee with a mental health condition saw the tribunal find that DWP had failed to support the staff member “in any meaningful way”, concluding: “She was not given adequate time to recover; her representations about her return to work were not taken into account nor was the point properly medically investigated.”

DWP last night (Wednesday) failed to explain why managers in its Cumbria and Lancashire district had dismissed 10 members of staff as a result of work-related stress during 2016.

But in a statement, a DWP spokeswoman said: “DWP is absolutely committed to ensuring all staff, including those with disabilities or health conditions, get the support they need to thrive.

The department has a duty of care to its employees and aims to lead by example when it comes to the protection of employees from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

It is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of disability and all employers should abide by UK law, including discrimination legislation.”

DWP also said that the number of tribunal cases was proportionately very small, that it provided a range of mental health support, and had pledged to train another 500 mental health first aiders in 2019-20, taking the total to 700.

DWP also claims to have improved the procedures for managing excessive sickness absence by putting employees at the heart of its decision-making, and to have improved its discipline and grievance procedures, while it said it was also working to improve the quality of its internal appeals.

DWP said it only dismissed staff after extended sick leave and its occupational health experts had indicated that a return to good health and work was unlikely within a reasonable time period.

DWP said it had a comprehensive stress policy and procedures, including a stress self-assessment toolkit and a mental wellbeing toolkit that sign-posts staff to a wide range of support.

And it said it provided a comprehensive range of programmes, workshops and e-learning to support wellbeing, mindfulness and resilience in the workplace.

18 October 2018

 

 

Sharp fall in disability hate crime referrals by police

The Home Office has been unable to explain why the number of disability hate crime cases referred to prosecutors by the police plunged last year by nearly a quarter, and why successful prosecutions of such offences fell even more sharply.

In a week when the Home Office published its updated hate crime action plan, and its own figures showed a significant rise in the number of hate crimes recorded by the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) figures are likely to embarrass home secretary Sajid Javid.

In publishing his refreshed action plan, Javid said that hate crime “goes directly against the long-standing British values of unity, tolerance and mutual respect” and that he was “committed to stamping this sickening behaviour out”.

But his department has been unable to explain this week why the new CPS annual report on hate crime showed the number of disability hate crimes referred by police forces in England and Wales to CPS fell from 988 in 2016-17 to just 754 in 2017-18, a drop of 23.7 per cent.

This is likely to have contributed to a fall in completed prosecutions of disability hate crime cases from 1,009 to 752 last year (an even steeper fall of 25.5 per cent) and a slump in the number of disability hate crime convictions from 800 to 564 (a drop of 29.5 per cent).

Only last week, Disability News Service reported how the work of police officers in more than half of disability hate crime investigations had been found to be “unacceptable”, following a joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI).

The new CPS figures came as the Home Office’s own figures showed the number of disability hate crimes recorded by police forces rose sharply from 5,558 in 2016-17 to 7,226 in 2017-18.

There is continuing debate over whether the latest significant increase in recorded hate crimes is due to more disabled people willing to report such offences to the police or third-party reporting centres; because of an actual increase in disability hate crime; or because of a combination of the two.

As incidents can take several months for the police to investigate, crimes reported in 2017-18 may not have been referred to the CPS in that period, so the Home Office and CPS figures are not directly comparable.

Separate Home Office figures – taken from the Crime Survey of England and Wales, but less statistically significant than those recorded by police forces because of the survey’s sample size – suggest that the number of disability hate crimes may have fallen slightly.

They showed an average of about 52,000 disability hate crimes per year from 2015-16 to 2016-17, compared with an average of about 56,000 a year during the period 2011-12 to 2013-14, and 77,000 per year during the period 2007-08 to 2009-10.

Anne Novis, chair of Inclusion London and the Metropolitan police’s disability hate crime working group, said it was “very disappointing” to see statistics showing such a steep fall in police referrals to CPS and subsequent prosecutions and convictions.

She said possible explanations included the lack of training for police officers and “a lack of senior police emphasising the importance of recording and investigating appropriately”.

But she also blamed government cuts, which she said had hit police forces hard, including their training budgets.

She said: “Hundreds of staff have gone from the police in London, including many senior staff.

It is unrealistic that they could provide a service to all of us, let alone a community that finds it hard to communicate with the police because of the barriers that we have to face.”

Despite the cuts, she said, police forces were still letting disabled people down with their performance on disability hate crime.

A Home Office spokeswoman was unable to explain the fall in police referrals and failed to say if the department was concerned and what action it was going to take.

But she said in a statement: “We expect all incidents of hate crime to be taken seriously and we are committed to making sure that police and prosecutors have the powers they need to bring offenders to justice.

We will continue to work with stakeholders to address what more can be done to tackle disability hate crime, particularly increasing reporting, and how we can support the police response to this vile crime.”

A CPS spokesman said: “The CPS is only able to prosecute cases which are referred to us by the police.

We note the fall in the number of disability hate crime cases prosecuted this year and will continue to work with the police to understand any emerging trends.

The recent HMCPSI report on disability hate crime praised the work of the CPS and particularly our hate crime co-ordinators, so we can be confident the CPS is prosecuting these cases appropriately.”

Two years ago, the then home secretary Amber Rudd was heavily criticised when she published her hate crime action plan for a “totally disrespectful” failure to address problems around disability-related hostility.

The government’s updated hate crime action plan bragged this week of how its efforts since 2016 had “delivered success, including examples of strong police practice in response to hate crime and dealing with perpetrators”.

Among new measures announced this week in the action plan, the Law Commission has been asked to review current hate crime legislation – as the commission recommended four years ago in a heavily-criticised report – following concerns that it does not offer disabled and LGBT people equal protection to that given to other protected groups.

The review is likely to include examining the possible extension of aggravated offences – which have higher sentences and currently can only apply to crimes linked to race and religion – to disability, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

There will also be a national hate crime communications campaign, while the government will work with local groups to raise awareness of disability hate crime and examine how best to promote third party reporting centres, as well as attempting to “increase and broaden our engagement with stakeholders representing disabled people”.

A separate report detailing progress made on the 2016 action plan reveals that a piece of research that aimed to identify the motivation behind disability hate crime had to be “abandoned” because they could not find enough perpetrators willing to work with academics.

Meanwhile, a disabled people’s organisation has welcomed a £373,000 grant from the National Lottery that will further its work in tackling disability hate crime over the next three years.

Disability Equality (nw), which is based in Preston, Lancashire, will use the money to develop disabled-led programmes and partnerships, focusing on the night-time economy, hate crime hot spots and “recruiting more disabled people who have been victims of hate crime to be ambassadors” so they can “spread the word” about how to report disability hate crime.

18 October 2018

 

 

New ‘suicide prevention’ minister evades questions on ESA suicide stats

The new “minister for suicide prevention” has refused to say if she will alert agencies across the country to NHS figures that show the high risk of suicide faced by claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.

Last week, mental health minister Jackie Doyle-Price had “minister for suicide prevention” added to her job title, with prime minister Theresa May claiming she wanted to “prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives”.

Part of Doyle-Price’s new role will be to “ensure every local area has an effective suicide prevention plan in place, and look at how the latest technology can be used to identify those most at risk”.

But Doyle-Price and her Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have refused to say if she will take the simple step of highlighting claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) as a high-risk group in the government’s suicide prevention strategy for England.

Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last December how NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey showed more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

This compared with less than seven per cent of adults who were not claiming ESA and said they had attempted to take their own lives at some point.

The numbers were first highlighted by activist and consultant clinical psychologist Dr Jay Watts.

But the government’s suicide prevention strategy fails to mention these figures or to highlight ESA claimants as a high-risk group, even though it briefly mentions Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) guidance for dealing with claimants of ESA and other benefits who may be at risk of suicide or self-harm, and the department’s processes for learning from DWP-linked suicides.

In the document, health secretary Jeremy Hunt – now foreign secretary – said he wanted to strengthen the national strategy through “better targeting of suicide prevention and help seeking in high risk groups” and by “improving data at national and local level and how this data is used to help take action and target efforts more accurately”.

But the Department of Health (now DHSC) refused to say last December why it had failed to warn NHS bodies and other local services that ESA claimants were at a hugely-increased suicide risk.

And DNS found no evidence earlier this year that DH had attempted to highlight the information with local areas and agencies or to advise them to include ESA claimants as a high-risk group in their own suicide prevention plans.

This week, DHSC has been unable to say if Doyle-Price will finally alert agencies across the country to the high-risk status of ESA claimants.

DNS asked the DHSC press office last Friday if Doyle-Price would promise to publish an updated version of the suicide prevention strategy that mentions the figures and highlights the fact that ESA claimants are at a high risk of suicide, and if she would alert local agencies to the figures and advise them to include ESA claimants as a high-risk group in their own local suicide prevention plans.

But a string of DHSC press officers have failed to provide a response, with one revealing that the delay was because she was “waiting to hear back from the DWP press office”.

No-one from DHSC had commented by noon today (Thursday), nearly six days after DNS asked the questions.

18 October 2018

 

 

Account of sanctions desperation leaves disabled peer in tears at WRAG research launch

A benefit claimant left a disabled peer in tears after describing to a parliamentary meeting how the application of the government’s brutal sanctions regime by a jobcentre adviser had left him so desperate that he attempted to take his own life.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson was chairing the meeting, which was held to launch a new report into the government’s “perverse and punitive” regime of benefit sanctions and conditions.

Academics at the University of Essex, in partnership with the disabled people’s organisation Inclusion London, had spent two years investigating the employment and support allowance (ESA) system, and particularly those claimants placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG), for those supposed to move gradually towards paid work.

Their research concluded that the system of sanctions and conditions imposed on disabled people placed in the WRAG – who can see all their benefits cut for weeks if they fail to carry out certain activities to the satisfaction of their jobcentre adviser – has a “significantly detrimental” effect on their mental health.

Researchers told the meeting that this approach was “psychologically toxic”, intellectually “incoherent”, counter-productive and “arbitrary”, and that it “rendered people into a state of almost constant anxiety”.

DWP’s approach is supposed to nudge disabled people in the WRAG towards work.

But the 15 participants in the study – all current or recent ESA WRAG claimants – instead told the researchers how the “perverse and punitive” conditions imposed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) undermined their self-confidence.

The report, Where Your Mental Health Just Disappears Overnight, says the impact of sanctions has been “life-threatening” for some of those in the WRAG.

It adds: “The underlying fear instilled by the threat of sanctions meant that many participants described living in a state of constant anxiety.”

While those taking part in the study wanted to engage in work and vocational activity, their presence in the WRAG forced them into less meaningful tasks, and even to understate their previous achievements on their CVs.

Ellen Clifford, Inclusion London’s campaigns and policy manager and a co-author of the report, told the meeting that she feared the continuing roll-out of the government’s new universal credit benefit system would “further entrench the conditionality approach”.

She said DWP’s “direction of travel is towards more conditionality and more sanctions”, which was “one of the key reasons disabled campaigners feel universal credit needs to be scrapped”.

One of the 15 WRAG claimants who took part in the research, Andy Mitchell, from Somerset, explained to the meeting how DWP had told him he would have his benefits sanctioned if he did not remove his degree from his CV.

But Mitchell also described how the system of unfair sanctions had left him penniless and had driven him to despair and a suicide attempt.

He had been claiming the mainstream jobseeker’s allowance for just four months after a redundancy when a jobcentre adviser arranged for him to attend a business start-up course, paid for by DWP.

But when he returned from the two-week course – with “loads of ideas” for starting a small baking business – a new adviser told him he should have been carrying out job-search activity while he was on the course… and handed him a sanction.

His benefits were stopped immediately, but he was unable to confirm with DWP that he had been sanctioned, and so could not apply for a hardship payment.

When his payments suddenly stopped, and with just £5 left, his pre-payment electricity soon ran out, as did his food, and he soon had to survive by helping himself to free fruit at the job club he attended, visiting the centre every day just so he had something to eat.

His physical and mental health began to deteriorate, he couldn’t even afford toilet paper to clean himself, and as Christmas approached he was no longer well enough to leave the house to carry out the work activities DWP was telling him he needed to complete.

On Christmas Day, he sat in his house all day waiting for it to get dark so he could go to bed, trying to ignore the families he could see through his window enjoying the festivities.

He was only able to switch the electricity back on after Christmas when an aunt sent him £20 as a birthday and Christmas present.

When he returned to the jobcentre after the Christmas break, the same adviser who had sanctioned him told him his sanction had shown her that he did not have a work ethic, even though he had worked all his life from the age of 16 until he had been made redundant.

He left the jobcentre, went home and attempted to take his own life.

Because of the impact of the sanctions regime on his mental health, he was eventually moved into the ESA WRAG.

After he finished speaking, Baroness Grey-Thompson struggled to speak as she wiped tears from her eyes and told him: “More people need to listen and understand the harsh reality.

This is why something needs to change.”

The co-leader of the Green party, Jonathan Bartley, was even more outspoken, telling the meeting that the system of sanctions and conditions imposed on disabled people, and Mitchell’s experience, was “a fucking disgrace”.

He gave his “whole-hearted support” to the report and said his party would be “spreading this report as far and wide as we can”.

He said: “One of the things I love about this report is that it breaks through the noise and tells the stories that need to be told.

Our vision is about a welfare system that liberates, empowers, facilitates, not something to be ashamed of but to be as proud of as we are of the NHS.”

He said his party would scrap sanctions, and pilot a universal basic income system, with top-ups for Deaf and disabled people who needed extra support.

Dr Danny Taggart, a lecturer in clinical psychology and co-author of the report, said the idea that the WRAG regime of sanctions and conditions would help nudge disabled people towards paid work “just isn’t good science”.

Instead, he said, the “perverse and punitive” incentives “rendered people into a state of almost constant anxiety”, with some talking of how the fear of sanctions cast a shadow over every aspect of their lives.

In some cases, he said, the impact of sanctions was life-threatening.

He told the meeting: “A number of participants described a quite rapid deterioration of their mental health as a result of sanctions.”

One of them told the researchers: “I feel as if someone has put a knife through my stomach.”

Taggart said: “More research needs to be undertaken to understand how to best support disabled people into meaningful vocational activity, something that both the government and a majority of disabled people want.

This study adds further evidence to support any future research being undertaken in collaboration with disabled people’s organisations who are better able to understand the needs of disabled people.”

18 October 2018

 

 

DPO’s report uncovers pattern of council failings on social care

A user-led organisation says its research has uncovered a pattern of behaviour by a local authority that has undermined the ability of disabled people in the borough to access the support they need to live independently.

The disabled people’s organisation Merton Centre for Independent Living (MCIL) this week published a 96-page report into the flaws and failings of Merton council’s adult social care provision.

The report says that a growing number of people are resorting to legal action against the council to secure the support they need, in some cases leading to judicial reviews.

It warns that the council appears to be carrying out reassessments and reviews of people’s care packages with the aim of cutting their support.

And it says that some people previously supported by the Independent Living Fund (ILF), which closed in 2015, were seeing their support cut, with most seeing their care charges increase this year.

One service-user told MCIL: “When they stopped the ILF, everything became difficult.”

Another former ILF-recipient said: “My life has changed, I have to worry from day to day. It certainly impacts on my health. I spend hours indoors where I don’t want to be indoors.”

The report also says it has seen examples of the council refusing to carry out assessments of people’s care needs.

It says: “Our overall conclusion is that there is a pattern to the challenges people are experiencing and these are not one-off incidences.

Moreover, the impact on individuals is significant, and must be addressed.”

It says there is “a growing feeling among service users that when re-assessments and reviews take place, they are focused on cutting people’s support packages and do not give full consideration to changes to their circumstances”.

One service-user said: “It feels like a personal attack. There was no explanation why. I was told by the assessor on the phone she didn’t understand why, she said: ‘I have to cut it.’”

Another said: “Now I have to pay extra if I wake up my carer to take me to the toilet in the night.

If I am going out in the evening and having a drink, I have to decide if I should pay more money to get up in the night or if I should wear a [incontinence] pad instead.”

Some service-users even believe they have been targeted for cuts to their support because they have spoken out about their concerns.

The report also warns that the council could be leaving some disabled people at risk of abuse and neglect.

In the first six months of this year, MCIL submitted as many safeguarding alerts to the council (eight) as it did in the whole of last year (2017-18), which itself was a sharp increase on the five it made in 2016-17.

The report says: “A particular feature of the alerts made so far this year is that they are on people who are experiencing issues following a reduction in care, or they are people on whom a previous alert was made and not resolved.”

It says that this is “unprecedented since the organisation first started running advice and advocacy services in 2013”.

The MCIL report, Choice, Control and Independent Living: Putting the Care Act into Practice, raises concerns about the council’s assessment process, its policy on care charges, and its approach to direct payments and safeguarding.

It is based on a detailed review of 45 cases in which Merton CIL has supported disabled people to access services in the borough, as well as eight in-depth interviews, and conversations with union staff and former social workers, as well as meetings, focus groups and evidence from other local organisations.

It says that care charges are having a “major impact” on the lives of service-users in the borough, while the council’s policies on direct payments, including its focus on the use of pre-payment cards, are “limiting choice and control”.

Merton CIL says it decided to write the report after repeatedly attempting to bring the issues to the attention of council officers and councillors.

The report warns: “Social care is one of the front-line prevention services of the welfare state.

When people do not get this practical assistance, it can lead to death, health crisis, hospital admission, institutionalisation, fractured families and police action – all of which is more expensive and less effective than early support to stay strong and independent.”

The report estimates – from NHS figures – that 1,300 users of social care in Merton do not feel they have control over their lives and the services that support them.

The council’s own survey of residents last year found that 28 per cent of disabled people were dissatisfied with “the way the council runs things”, more than double the 13 per cent rate for non-disabled people, although the council failed to ask any questions in the survey about social care.

Among its recommendations, the report calls on the council to work towards scrapping all care charges – as another London council, Hammersmith and Fulham, has done – and to carry out research to provide a stronger evidence base on adult social care services in the borough.

It also calls on the council to monitor care assessments to ensure they comply with the Care Act; to “be clearer that pre-payment cards and bank accounts are both acceptable options for managing direct payments”; and to review and improve its safeguarding policies.

MCIL is due to host a panel discussion on its report next Thursday (25 October) at its agm.

A Merton council spokeswoman said: “As a council we provide grant funding to Merton Centre for Independent Living (Merton CIL) to provide advice and advocacy services to disabled people. 

We were unaware that this report was going to be published and we were not consulted on the report prior to publication. 

It is therefore too early to comment on the contents of the report except to say that it is based on a small number of social care users and cannot therefore be a representative or balanced view of social care provision in Merton as a whole.”

18 October 2018

 

 

Labour resists ‘scrap universal credit’ call, as Tory blames ‘fecklessness’ for food bank use

Labour has failed in a bid to force the government to publish secret papers that would show the true financial impact of universal credit on benefit claimants.

In a debate lasting nearly four hours yesterday (Wednesday), Labour and SNP MPs lined up to highlight the negative impact of the new benefit system on disabled people and other constituents, while many Tory MPs praised the system and accused their opponents of scaremongering.

Few Labour MPs followed the example of shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who did not speak in the debate but told a journalist last week that universal credit should be scrapped.

Most Labour MPs, including shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood, called only for the government to “stop the roll-out of universal credit” and correct its flaws.

But one of those who did call for universal credit to be scrapped was Maria Eagle, a former minister for disabled people, who told MPs: “My constituency is about to experience a tsunami of further hardship and poverty because of the roll-out of universal credit.

It is not enough to slow the roll-out; universal credit must be scrapped. It will never work. It will punish the poor and create more destitution.”

Another was Swansea West Labour and Co-op MP Geraint Davies, who said: “Universal credit combines three massive computer systems – the Inland Revenue system, the jobcentre system and local council systems – and, inevitably, it will not work.

The whole system is a way of cutting corners and cutting benefits for the most vulnerable.

Universal credit should be scrapped, because it simply will not work.

In Swansea and elsewhere it has led to sleepless nights, empty stomachs and shivering families. It is leading to poverty and despair.

I believe it is simply a Trojan horse for further cuts.”

Labour’s Danielle Rowley, the MP for Midlothian, said she had been sent a message from the manager of her local Citizens Advice bureau, saying: “Universal credit’s big impact is on people’s mental health.

We are seeing so many people who cannot deal with UC due to the fragility of their mental health.

It’s making underlying mental health worse. We are aware of clients attempting suicide due to the anxiety of the whole thing.”

Fellow Labour MP Anna Turley said figures from the House of Commons library showed that the full rollout of universal credit in her area would affect about 3,500 households that include disabled people.

She said: “Thousands of vulnerable people in my area are going to be moved on to a benefit that has been beset with payment delays and has seen food-bank use skyrocket by more than 50 per cent in areas of full roll-out.

Yesterday, in response to my question, the minister could not reassure me that my constituents would not be worse off.”

Labour’s Shabana Mahmood, who said her staff spent “most of their time every single day on the phone trying to sort out difficulties arising from universal credit”, was another to highlight the impact on disabled constituents.

She said: “There is a particular difficulty in my constituency relating to constituents with autism and… mental health conditions moving on to universal credit, often because they have failed the assessment – they had previously been in receipt of employment and support allowance (ESA) – having not been supported as they tried to navigate a very complicated online system.”

Labour’s Mike Amesbury, the shadow minister for employment, warned that the universal credit rollout would be “a disaster” for disabled people, with 750,000 set to lose out financially.

But he called on the government to “stop, fund and fix” universal credit rather than scrapping it, although he did suggest that “the policy may well already be beyond fixing”.

The SNP’s Neil Gray said: “The biggest problem with universal credit is that, for years, it has been an all-consuming cash cow for Treasury cuts to social security.”

He said the experience of one constituent receiving mental health crisis care in hospital highlighted how universal credit “completely fails to support people with mental health conditions”.

The young man’s mother was told that unless her son signed his universal credit “claimant commitment” he would have to apply for jobs from his hospital bed if he was to avoid a sanction.

Work and pensions secretary Esther McVey defended universal credit and its “strong merits” but admitted that there were “areas that we need to improve”.

She had said earlier in the week that the so-called “managed migration”, which will see claimants of existing benefits such as ESA moved onto universal credit, would not now begin in January 2019, but “later in the year”, and would only affect about 10,000 people in 2019.

The “slow and measured” rollout would then “increase” from 2020 onwards, she said.

A string of other Conservative MPs lined up to praise universal credit, including St Austell and Newquay’s Steve Double, who claimed that jobcentre staff “love it, and claimants like it” and that “one of the problems is all the scaremongering, primarily from the Labour party”.

But he also admitted that the government needed to “make sure it has the funds it needs to work and achieve the outcomes we all want to see”.

Fellow Tory Alex Burghart, a member of the Commons work and pensions committee, said: “I can say that universal credit was rolled out in my constituency a number of months ago, and it is working extremely well.

We have had nothing but praise for it from the work coaches who administer it, and we have had very high satisfaction rates from people using it in Brentwood and Ongar.”

One of the most shocking interventions in the debate came from Gordon Henderson, the Tory MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey in Kent, who tried to argue that the move to universal credit was not responsible for a significant rise in the use of foodbanks.

He said he had secured information from a local foodbank about claimants who had faced difficulties with universal credit, and he claimed he had discovered that many of them were “living in a local hostel that provides temporary accommodation for homeless adults”.

He said that it “soon became obvious that some of them suffered from underlying problems that affected their ability to manage the transition to UC, and that forced them into using the food bank”, such as “drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems, an inability to manage money, or plain fecklessness”.

He said that making universal credit perfect overnight would not “solve their mental health problems” and issues with drugs and alcohol and “would not make them less feckless” and that “they would still have the same problems, whatever benefits system was put in place”.

He said he was glad that such people were “in the minority” and appeared to suggest that those with mental health problems – and seemingly people with learning difficulties – were to blame for their difficulties with universal credit, after adding that there were also “some people who have genuine concerns”.

A vote by Labour to attempt to force the government to publish its evidence on the financial impact of universal credit was lost by 20 votes.

Meanwhile, DWP announced this week that as many as 180,000 ESA claimants will now be entitled to receive backdated benefit payments as a result of the botched migration of former claimants of incapacity benefit and other benefits to the new ESA from 2011 onwards.

The department had failed to realise that many of the claimants were entitled to income-related ESA – and therefore to associated disability premiums – rather than just the contributory form of ESA.

DWP had originally said that about 70,000 disabled people were likely to have been affected by the underpayments.

Previous estimates suggested DWP would have to pay back about £500 million, but this week’s report says the final sum is likely to be about £970 million, with average payments of £5,000.

But future ESA payments at higher levels will push the total bill even higher for several years – by a total of about another £700 million, although this is just an estimate – until all claimants eventually move onto universal credit.

DWP expects to finish the process of reviewing the cases of claimants who could be entitled to a backdated payment by the end of next year.

It is just one in a series of major blunders by DWP senior civil servants relating to disability benefits, with the department now believed to be carrying out six separate trawls through its records to find disabled people unfairly deprived of benefits.

18 October 2018

 

 

Disabled shadow minister calls for government to fund access to all rail stations

A disabled shadow minister has called on the government to do more to improve its “inadequate” record on improving access to rail travel, and to provide enough funding to ensure all train journeys are accessible “from end to end”.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people and the MP for Battersea, was speaking three months after Disability News Service revealed that spending on the government’s rail station access improvement programme had been slashed over the last five years.

Those figures, released through a freedom of information request, showed spending on the Access for All scheme fell from as much as £81.1 million in 2013-14 to just £14.6 million last year.

The cuts are set to continue this year and next year, although spending is due to rise to up to £50 million a year over the following five years, with an additional £50 million in deferred funding.

De Cordova, who had secured the debate on step-free access to stations in her constituency, asked transport minister Nusrat Ghani why three of the four stations in Battersea were not accessible to wheelchair-users.

She told the minister that the three stations – Battersea Park, Queenstown Road and Wandsworth Town – had no step-free access, even though they served 7.5 million passengers a year.

Although Clapham Junction, the country’s busiest station in terms of rail traffic, has step-free access to all its platforms, there is still no step-free access onto the trains themselves, she said.

Battersea Park has had Access for All-funded work delayed, while Queenstown Road and Wandsworth Town are both due to have fully-accessible new entrances, even though there will still be no step-free access to the platforms.

De Cordova said: “What is the point of having an accessible step-free entrance, but no step-free access to the actual train platform?”

She added: “Step-free access to stations can mean the difference between the ability to lead a fulfilling and flourishing life seeing friends and family and going to work, and being left isolated at home, unable to travel and excluded from participation, from leading a fulfilling and flourishing ​life, and from the world of work.

That is the reality for far too many disabled people.”

She said progress in making all stations accessible to disabled people through Access for All – founded by the Labour government in 2006 – had been “too slow”, with only one in five stations across the country fully accessible.

She called for the Access for All programme to receive enough funding to ensure that all stations are step-free.

De Cordova said: “Train journeys must be accessible from end to end. That means that someone can get to the station, on to the train, off the train and out of the station at the other end.

I call on the government to put in the investment needed to build an inclusive railway, including accessible stations in Battersea.”

She said the “unreasonable” requirement for disabled people to book assistance in advance “prevents spontaneous travel and removes the ability to turn up and go”, while the removal of guards from trains meant the railway system was becoming more inaccessible.

Ghani said the government’s aim was to ensure disabled people “have the same access to transport as everyone else” by 2030, to “ensure that we come into line with the UN’s ambition to ensure accessibility across all modes of transport”.

She said: “People should have the same access to transport and the same opportunity to travel as everyone else, and this is an important measure to reduce social isolation and create opportunities ​for people to play a more active role in society.”

She said the Access for All funding announcement meant design work would “restart on all deferred projects from April next year, and once the designs are completed, Network Rail will confirm the construction date for Battersea Park”.

Ghani said the rail industry had been asked to nominate stations for new Access for All funding by 16 November, with the money to be allocated “based on annual footfall and weighted by the incidence of disability in the area” and taking into account local factors such as distance to a hospital or availability of third-party funding.

And she said there would be “a fair geographical spread of projects across the country”.

She said that neither Queenstown Road nor Wandsworth Town had previously been nominated for Access for All funding.

And she said the government was pressing the industry to “comply with its legal obligations to ensure that work at stations meets current accessibility standards”, including on major projects such as Crossrail and the redevelopment of Birmingham New Street, and on other work such as ensuring that replacement bridges have lifts or ramps.

18 October 2018

 

 

High streets ‘need to wake up to the need to communicate with disabled people’

Struggling high street businesses need to “wake up” to the need to communicate with disabled people and their potential £200 billion spending power, according to the founder of an accessibility information website.

Dr Gregory Burke told Disability News Service that he still sees many of the same physical access barriers in high streets that he faced as a wheelchair-user when he launched DisabledGo 18 years ago, and that he believes disabled people’s quality of life has probably fallen during that time.

In the two decades since he launched the business, it has grown to the point where it has 60 employees and is used by more than 1.5 million people each year to plan a visit or trip by checking detailed accessibility information on venues such as cafes, hospitals and cinemas throughout the UK.

Burke was speaking this week as DisabledGo launched a new website and mobile phone app and announced that it was changing its name to AccessAble*.

In a survey released to mark the launch, 99 per cent of the disabled people and carers questioned said it was important to know about accessibility before visiting somewhere new, while almost as many (98 per cent) said they would search for accessibility information in advance.

But only 14 per cent of people said they found the access information they were looking for and 80 per cent said they found the information they did track down to be inaccurate.

Burke says he was still shocked by how little attention businesses paid to providing good access information about their services.

He says: “What frustrates me the most is that businesses are resistant to communicating with a market worth £200 billion a year.

With high streets struggling, you would think most businesses would want to tap into that.

Businesses need to wake up. The disability market has always been here, but businesses need to wake up to it.”

Burke started DisabledGo in 2000 after spending several years in hospital, rehabilitation and respite after a severe case of encephalitis as a teenager.

He says it was only when he emerged after his rehabilitation that he realised that he was disabled. “Trying to access anywhere was fraught with difficulty and frustration.

I’m a pretty confident guy but I found that my social ambit was shrinking, was getting smaller and smaller and I wasn’t going out anywhere where I hadn’t been before because I couldn’t trust what the access was like.

If I did try somewhere new and it didn’t work out, which almost invariably it didn’t, that experience would eat in at me and eat at my confidence, and I was becoming more and more a hostage in my own home.”

It was these experiences that motivated him to start DisabledGo.

For the first couple of years, he travelled the country, listening to disabled people as part of a national consultation exercise, “asking why we were not more visible in society and in education and why we weren’t down the pub more.”

What he was told was that society was generally inaccessible, but that there were many places that were accessible to some disabled people, if those disabled people could only find out about them.

Burke says that listening to disabled people in this way has been at the core of DisabledGo’s success, with local steering groups set up whenever it produces an area guide “so local people can feed into what we’re doing all the time”.

Nine years ago, he decided DisabledGo had reached a position where it was “very strong, very robust”, with multi-year contracts with a number of large businesses and organisations and an annual turnover of £2 million, and so he decided “to become a barrister and see if I can help people in a different way”.

After just three years’ training, he was called to the bar and stepped down as chief executive of DisabledGo.

He is now head of employment and discrimination at Seven Bedford Row, a leading barristers’ chambers in London.

If he had one request of government, he says, it would be to set up an inspectorate to ensure businesses comply with the Equality Act.

He says: “The Equality Act is a fantastic piece of legislation – most disabled people don’t realise how powerful it is – but if you have less favourable treatment from a service or a venue you have to bring your own civil claim and that’s exhausting and expensive and time-consuming and can be frightening, although it shouldn’t be frightening at all.

Most people are put off by it, so the government should recognise that just as we have a health and safety inspectorate, hygiene inspectorates and things like that, we should have an access inspectorate too.”

Burke believes that disabled people’s “quality of life index” would “show a downward trend” 18 years on from the launch of DisabledGo, following years of cuts to state support and media reporting of “benefit cheats”, which he believes has had “a hugely detrimental impact on how society views disabled people”.

He says: “To taint disabled people with the brush of a cheat or a scrounger is just plain wrong.”

The AccessAble survey found that less than two-fifths (37 per cent) of the 845 disabled people and carers questioned thought that public attitudes to disability and access had improved in the last five years.

But one thing that has changed disabled people’s lives for the better since 2000 is technology, he says, which had “always been a friend to disabled people”.

He hopes that AccessAble’s new app will help disabled people who find that acquiring an impairment “can often feel like the death of spontaneity”.

The website has always helped disabled people plan their journey before they left home, but the app will tell the user where the nearest accessible venues are when they are already out and about.

Burke, who still owns AccessAble, hopes his team will double its reach to three million users a year by 2020.

We need to commit to changing a situation where disabled people and carers are being excluded from everyday life and recognise that access begins online,” he says.

Everyone’s accessibility needs are different. Providing trusted accessibility information should be seen as an integral part of providing a great customer experience.”

*AccessAble is a DNS subscriber

18 October 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:49
Oct 122018
 
We are the UK correspondents for the french-german TV ARTE. We are getting in touch for a report we wanted to make about Universal credit and its impact on disabled people.
Could you help us to get in touch with a disabled person who has been affected by universal credit and who could explain to us its difficulties. Do you think you could help? We can go anywhere, the sooner the better, even in the week end. We don’t need much time.
We would like to show how it has make things very difficult for people and how it has to be changed.
Many thanks.
Mathilde
Mathilde Bonnassieux
Frederique Zingaro
Email: autobusfilms@gmail.com
Phone +44 079398 60535 / +44 79398 60543
 Posted by at 15:50
Oct 112018
 

With thanks to Shirin for this information that might help others….

I sent a letter to Capita to request reasonable adjustments per the Equality Act 2010. Had no reply so rang them and was told that if you write to the address on the appointment letter, it will not be “picked up” as that is for “finance matters”. However, if you write to the DWP directly at the address they normally write to you with, they should reply, or you can ring the DWP.

 

 Posted by at 22:47
Oct 112018
 

[Thanks to John Pring]

Anger and dismay after Labour back-tracks on pledge to scrap universal credit

Labour has infuriated its own disabled members by backtracking on a public pledge by the shadow chancellor that the party would scrap universal credit if it won the next general election.

John McDonnell drew widespread praise when he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that universal credit was a “shambles” and “iniquitous” and added: “I think we are moving to a position now where it is just not sustainable. It will have to go.”

His comments were widely reported, with Sky itself saying “Labour to ditch universal credit”, the BBC reporting him as saying “universal credit has to go”, the Mirror saying “Labour would scrap ‘unsustainable’ Universal Credit”, and iNews saying that “Labour will scrap ‘shambolic’ Universal Credit system”.

But when Disability News Service (DNS) asked Labour’s press office to confirm that the party’s policy was now to scrap universal credit, a spokeswoman said instead that the benefit system was “clearly failing in its current form”.

Instead of committing to scrapping universal credit, she said that Labour wanted “a root-and-branch review of the social security system”.

This was the much-criticised policy announced by shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood at the party’s annual conference in Liverpool last month, when she called on the government to “stop the rollout of universal credit and fix its many flaws” rather than for it to be scrapped.

When DNS asked for further clarity and confirmation that a Labour government would scrap universal credit, the party’s press office produced another statement, which said that universal credit was “failing in its current form”.

The party later made clear that it was not Labour policy to scrap universal credit, before the press office issued a third statement, which said that “Universal Credit in its current form simply isn’t working” and that “Universal Credit in its current form will not exist under Labour”.

Disability Labour, which represents disabled party members and has campaigned to persuade the party to change its position, had issued a statement earlier in the week, following McDonnell’s Sky interview, to say it was “delighted” by the party’s decision to scrap universal credit.

But after being told the party had back-tracked on McDonnell’s comments and was now saying the system would merely need to be improved, Disability Labour said it was “appalled and dismayed”.

In a statement, it said: “Despite assurances from the shadow chancellor John McDonnell MP earlier this week, Disability Labour has been informed that the party’s position remains to ‘pause and fix’ universal credit.

Disability Labour are clear in our position – universal credit is deeply flawed, harmful to many of its claimants and cannot be fixed.

We believe there is no option other than to stop and scrap universal credit as soon as possible.

Disability Labour’s position as a socialist society is to always be a critical friend to the Labour party.

We will continue to campaign for the Labour party to commit to stopping and scrapping universal credit and call on the party to adopt this policy as a matter of urgency.

We will be seeking an urgent meeting with MPs and party officials to clarify this further.”

Disability Labour’s co-chair Wayne Blackburn had described universal credit earlier this week as “the cruellest of benefits” and said the “built-in long waits that claimants have for their money is disgraceful”.

He said: “That food bank use has increased so much in areas where UC has been introduced is a clear indicator of this government deliberately creating a hostile environment for UC claimants, many of whom are disabled people.”

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which is also campaigning for universal credit to be scrapped, has said that universal credit has “too many flaws to be simply paused and fixed” and is “rotten to the core”, with foodbank use and rates of claimants being sanctioned “soaring” in areas where it has been introduced.

Linda Burnip, DPAC’s co-founder, said the party’s back-tracking on universal credit did not surprise her because Labour’s attitude was that “we are the party of the workers and the rest are skivers and shirkers and we don’t really care about them”.

She added: “We will just have to redouble our efforts with the Labour party.”

11 October 2018

 

 

Police work on disability hate crime is ‘unacceptable’, say watchdogs

The work of police officers on more than half of their disability hate crime investigations has been found to be “unacceptable”, according to a new report by two watchdogs.

The joint inspection by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) is the third attempt in five years to look at how the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) handle cases involving disability hate crime.

The report is generally complimentary about the work of CPS, which it concludes has made “significant improvements” in dealing with disability hate crime cases.

But it is highly critical of the work of police forces in England and Wales.

The report says officers are failing to “flag” cases as disability hate crimes on police computer systems and are also failing to refer many cases to the CPS for possible prosecution, while there are delays in the investigation process and a lack of effective supervision.

It also says that police officers are failing to carry out risk assessments on victims of disability hate crime in many of the cases the inspectors sampled, and that they often fail to draw up risk management plans.

HMICFRS looked at 90 sample cases across six police forces: Cheshire, Devon and Cornwall, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, the Metropolitan police, Nottinghamshire, and South Wales.

It found that in 19 (21 per cent) of the cases there were avoidable delays in the investigation, with all reasonable lines of enquiry explored in only 69 of the 90 cases (77 per cent), while an investigation plan was missing from 39 of them (43 per cent).

In 51 of the 90 police cases (57 per cent) examined by HMICFRS, the inspectors considered the case files to be sub-standard, including 24 deemed “inadequate”.

The report concludes that the standard of police investigations into disability hate crime was “unacceptable in many cases”.

The inspectorate also found that in 20 of the 90 cases, the outcome of the investigation had been “inappropriate”, including 14 cases dealt with by community resolution without CPS approval.

Police guidelines state that officers should never offer a community resolution – an alternative way of dealing with less serious crimes that does not involve taking the case to court – to a victim of a hate crime without checking with CPS.

The report also found that in the initial information provided to CPS, in only 16 of 160 cases (10 per cent) did police officers describe the reasonable adjustments that a victim of crime might need to give their evidence effectively.

In contrast, the report says that CPS has made “substantial progress” in dealing with disability hate crime in most areas, and now has “clear” guidance, while decision-making on cases is “excellent”.

But HMCPSI inspectors still said that the quality of more than two-thirds (about 68 per cent) of charging decisions was only fair or poor.

The report says compliance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors in disability hate crime cases was “excellent”.

And it also says there was “much greater awareness” among prosecutors of section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, under which the courts must increase the sentence for any offence where a defendant has demonstrated hostility towards disabled people, or where the offence has been shown to be motivated by hostility.

In the year to December 2017, prosecutors secured a sentence increase in nearly seven in 10 cases (69 per cent) in which they had applied for one from the court, compared to about 34 per cent in 2015-16.

But the report says more still needs to be done by CPS, although there had been “a significant and welcome improvement in some aspects of casework”.

Five years ago, HMCPSI, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and HM Inspectorate of Probation concluded in a joint report that disability hate crime was “the hate crime that has been left behind”.

A follow-up report three years ago accused the police, probation service and CPS of failing to implement their recommendations.

Disability News Service has been reporting on the criminal justice system’s failings in dealing with disability hate crime since 2009.

It has particularly reported repeatedly on how the criminal justice system has failed to treat cases in which disabled people have been the victims of brutal and degrading assaults – many of them violent killings – as disability hate crimes.

Last year, researchers at the University of Sussex called for a new hate crime act and other key legal reforms to address the “huge justice gap” that affects victims of disability hate crime, following a major two-year study.

11 October 2018

 

 

Government ‘blocked’ involvement of user-led groups in mental health summit

The government has been asked by campaigners from across the world why it blocked the “meaningful” involvement of user-led and survivor organisations in this week’s high-profile global mental health summit in London.

Two open letters have criticised the way the Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit was organised, and the hypocrisy of it being hosted by a UK government that was heavily criticised over its record on disability rights by a UN committee a little over 12 months ago.

One letter, spearheaded by the National Survivor User Network, was signed by more than 100 organisations and individuals, including mental health service-users and survivors, user-led networks, academics and mental health professionals from more than 20 countries, including Argentina, Peru, India, Chile, Columbia, Japan, Kenya, Estonia and Hungary.

The letter says there was little or no involvement of user-led organisations in planning the event, in a blatant breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

It criticises the attempt to position the UK government as a world leader on mental health when the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities had raised such significant concerns about its breaches of disability rights, both last year and in a 2016 inquiry report which found it guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of the convention.

It also points to the discrimination within mental health services faced by black and minority ethnic communities in the UK, including “high levels of misdiagnosis, compulsory treatment, over-medication, community treatment orders and culturally inappropriate treatment”.

And the letter warns that mental health survivor and service-user groups in the global south have objected to attempts – led by the UK – to import “failed western models of mental health care” into their countries.

The letter compares the UK government’s “hypocritical” attempt to take the lead in creating a “global declaration on political leadership in mental health” with the decision by the UK to host its Global Disability Summit in July, which also saw an “intolerant government posing as the upholder of the rights” of disabled people.

Those signing the letter asked the UK government to commit to putting forward any declaration that comes out of this week’s summit for consultation and ratification by a wide range of international user-led organisations and disabled people’s organisations, a request it looks likely to ignore.

And they asked the government to promise to “lead by example” by changing its “discriminatory laws that threaten the lives of mental health service-users”, including social security policies.

The second letter was coordinated by the national service-user network Shaping Our Lives (SOL) and was signed by NSUN and user-led grassroots groups including the Mental Health Resistance Network, Disabled People Against Cuts and Recovery in the Bin, all of which also signed the first letter.

This letter raises concerns that the summit would “seriously misrepresent the issues and problems of mental health and mental health service users globally” because of the “systematic exclusions” of representatives of user-led and survivor organisations.

This exclusion, the letter says, was a clear breach of the UN convention.

It says that the summit’s organisers side-lined attempts by the European Network of (Ex) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (ENUSP) and the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry (WNUSP), both of which signed the letter, to secure invitations for representatives of their organisations.

Disability News Service (DNS) has seen a letter from ENUSP to a Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) civil servant, sent last month, after both ENUSP and WNUSP failed to receive invitations to take part in the summit.

ENUSP suggested a string of elected representatives from member organisations across Europe who could attend the summit and pointed out that it was “the only grassroots, independent representative organisation of mental health service users, ex-users and survivors of psychiatry at a European level since 1990”.

It stressed the importance of having “representative people with lived experience at the Summit”, but the civil servant turned down the offer and said there were only spaces left for representatives to take part in the area of finance and investment at the summit.

This is a specialist area where the ENUSP representatives would not have been able to make a meaningful contribution.

The SOL letter says: “This failure to enable involvement also reflects wide and growing concerns about the inadequacy of and crisis in UK mental health policy and provision and the failure to listen to service users, their families, communities and organisations in both mental health and welfare reform policy, both of which are having catastrophic consequences for many service users, their families and communities.”

Asked to comment on the two letters, a DHSC spokeswoman said: “All dialogue on mental health is key; we have invited a range of people from those with lived experience, to civil society, academics and policy makers who represent more than 65 countries from around the world.

We have ensured that the involvement of people with lived experience ‎has run throughout our work on the summit, with their experiences at the heart of our advisory panel and in every workstream.

Those with personal experience attending were nominated by representative groups of people with lived experience – this group of consultees include the convener of this open letter and the signatories include people who are attending the summit.

We recognise there is further work to do for all countries on mental health which is exactly why this summit is such a vital step.”

She declined to say whether any declaration from the summit would be put forward for consultation and ratification by user-led organisations and DPOs, or whether the UK government would promise to lead by example by changing its discriminatory laws.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said: “Consulting people is one thing, but we know that taking any notice of what they say may be another.”

He said this would “explain the strong divergence between the claim to involve service-users and the amazingly broad-based criticism there has been from them and their organisations”.

Jasna Russo, a survivor-researcher from Germany and a member of ENUSP, who helped draft the SOL letter, was invited by the UK government to attend the summit as an individual with lived experience, but after she asked if she could attend as a representatives of ENUSP her request for funding was rejected.

She told DNS: “Regardless of how many countries they come from, there is a big difference between inviting persons with ‘lived experience’ and representatives of international grassroots organisations who are working on the summit’s topic for many years putting forward independent advocacy for users/survivors and people with psychosocial disability.

This gathering was simply not interested in such perspectives. As in many other involvement initiatives – people subscribing to medical model of mental illness are far more attractive partners than those bringing in political and socio-economic issues.

Even though this summit talks about poverty in relation to mental health it seems much more focused on how to make the Western biomedical psychiatry go global.”

11 October 2018

 

 

Watchdogs’ concern over government refusal to act on UN rights reports

Four equality and human rights watchdogs have heavily criticised the government for its failure to address the serious concerns raised in a “damning” UN report on the rights of disabled people across the UK.

A year on from the report by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, in which it told the UK government to make more than 80 improvements to how its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights, the four bodies have concluded that it has taken only “limited steps” to address those concerns.

In a new report, they say they are concerned at the government’s failure to produce a comprehensive strategy to show how it will implement the committee’s recommendations.

And they have criticised the UK government’s “continuing reluctance” to accept the conclusions of a ground-breaking inquiry by the committee that found in late 2016 that it was guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights.

This week’s report was put together by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, collectively known as the UK Independent Mechanism (UKIM), which is tasked with monitoring progress on implementing the convention in the UK.

The UKIM report says the picture emerging from recent evidence is “deeply concerning”, as disabled people across the UK “continue to face serious regression of many of their rights”.

It concludes: “Social protections have been reduced and disabled people and their families continue to be some of the hardest hit.

More and more disabled people are finding it difficult to live independently and be included, and participate, in their communities on an equal basis.”

The report by the four watchdogs looks at the seven areas in which the UN committee asked the government for a progress report.

On independent living, UKIM says there has been “limited progress”, with evidence that adult social care is at “crisis point”, while the closure of the Independent Living Fund has led to a “postcode lottery for support”.

On social protection, UKIM says the UK government has failed to act on research showing the “disproportionate and significantly adverse effect of welfare reform on disabled people’s rights to independent living and to an adequate standard of living and social security”.

And it says it remains “seriously concerned” at the government’s continuing failure to assess the cumulative impact on disabled people of multiple reforms that have affected living standards and social security.

On employment, the UKIM report praises the “very positive first step” made last year by the government in launching plans to increase the number of disabled people in work by one million in 10 years – despite strong criticism of those plans by disabled people’s organisations – but says that further reform of the work capability assessment process is “urgently needed”.

UKIM says some work has been done to tackle prejudice and negative attitudes towards disabled people, but it warns that nothing appears to have been done to address the committee’s main concerns in this area, with “no steps taken to tackle the negative attitudes towards those claiming social security benefits, and, more broadly, to promote the human rights model of disability”.

The UKIM report also warns of continuing barriers to accessing justice for disabled people in England and Wales, with a “substantial decrease in the number of disabled people being granted legal aid” as a result of reforms introduced through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

And it criticises the “continued lack of action” in setting up systems to “ensure that disabled people and their organisations are involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of legislation, policy or programmes that affect their lives”.

UKIM also criticises the failure of the UK and devolved governments to make any effort to spread awareness of the committee’s 2016 and 2017 reports, pointing out that neither of them have been published on the UK government’s website.

In response to the UKIM report, a government spokeswoman said in a statement: “We’re committed to building a society which is fully inclusive of disabled people across every area of their lives, from transport and housing to healthcare and employment.

Our response to the UN sets out our progress over the last year, including the creation of a new inter-ministerial group on disability and society, which will drive progress against the implementation of the UN convention.

While we’ve made significant progress, there is always more we can do. We’re determined to continue making progress in creating a society that works for everyone, where all can participate fully, and be included in society.”

She said the government would spend an estimated £54 billion in 2018-19 on benefits to support disabled people and those with long term health conditions, up from £44.7 billion in 2010-11, while nearly 600,000 more disabled people had moved into work in the four years to 2017.

Last month, Disability News Service reported that the UK government – in its own report to the UN committee – appeared to have decided that there was a need for improvements in just six of the 25 areas it was asked to respond on.

Its response to most of the UN committee’s recommendations was to ignore or dismiss the criticisms and defend its existing policies, with Inclusion London describing its report as “deeply unsatisfying”.

11 October 2018

 

 

Anger after minister and BBC undermine ‘silent applause’ reasonable adjustment

A disabled activist has lodged complaints with the government and the BBC after the broadcaster’s flagship current affairs programme Question Time mocked the idea of using “silent applause” to make political events more accessible for autistic people.

BBC Question Time (BBCQT) panellists were asked if they agreed with steps taken by the University of Manchester Students’ Union (MSU) to encourage members attending democratic events to use British Sign Language (BSL) – silent – applause instead of clapping.

David Dimbleby, the veteran journalist who chairs Question Time, twice appeared to make fun of the idea of using BSL applause instead of clapping, including at the end of the programme on 4 October.

Justice secretary David Gauke – a former work and pensions secretary, where he had responsibility for the Office for Disability Issues – said the idea was “silly”, while business executive Claude Littner described it as “absolutely absurd” and “ridiculous”.

But disabled activists are furious that an organisation attempting to make its political events more accessible to autistic people and those with anxiety-related impairments should be mocked and criticised by both the BBC and the justice secretary.

Sam Margrave, a lecturer in business management and entrepreneurship, who is autistic, has complained to both the Cabinet Office and the BBC about Gauke and Dimbleby and the Question Time team.

He said that Gauke had a duty under the Equality Act to advance equality of opportunity and eliminate discrimination but instead had called the idea of making reasonable adjustments for disabled people “silly” and had failed to criticise fellow panellists Isabel Oakeshott, a journalist, and Littner for mocking the idea.

Margrave, a member of the executive of Disability Labour, which represents disabled people who are members of the Labour party, said on Twitter: “I am so angry and upset by the comments. I am not a snowflake and nor are others.

Stop confusing disabled, anxious, autistic, etc as snowflakes.”

He was backed by Disability Labour, which said it viewed Dimbleby’s behaviour with “complete dismay” and said he had been “mocking the use of British Sign Language, which is used by 28,000 people in the UK every day”.

Kathy Bole, co-vice-chair of Disability Labour, said: “We are appalled that David Gauke, a former DWP minister, described the use of the BSL sign as ‘silly’.”

She said his comment was another example of the “hostile environment” created for disabled people by the UK government, and that using BSL as a way of applauding silently was a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act.

Bole said: “BBCQT has condoned the disgraceful denigrating of disabled students. This is not acceptable from a public broadcaster.

Disability Labour believes that the BBC should ensure that all staff involved with Question Time should have disability inclusion training. We would be pleased to advise the BBC in this regard.”

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry had shown some sympathy to the union’s actions, saying: “I think there are people, particularly on the autistic spectrum, who find it very difficult to go to places that are noisy and where there may be something about democracy going on.

They may be excluded. I can see where this is coming from. The difficulty is that it is very deeply engrained in our culture that we clap, so I don’t know.”

But George Mpanga, better known as George the Poet, told Littner: “I’m mindful that people are different and it’s not fair to laugh down difference.

There are people with experiences that make them very sensitive to sounds like clapping and unable to participate in spaces like that. I’m talking about neurodiversity, people that are triggered.”

A BBC spokesman told Disability News Service: “David was not mocking or intending any offence when he demonstrated ‘silent applause’ in relation to a question regarding Manchester Student Union replacing clapping with waving.

Question Time is an inclusive programme and hosts panel and audience members from a range of different backgrounds, including people with disabilities.”

University of Manchester Students’ Union said last week that its new policy only applied to democratic events and was intended to make them more accessible and inclusive.

The union said in last week’s statement: “We have already received many positive responses from disabled students (some of whom are deaf or autistic), who are pleased to feel more included in our democratic process.

Some of them plan to attend upcoming democratic events at the union for the first time, thanks to this policy.”

It added: “The way in which politics is managed and conducted is often hostile – we see that on a national stage every day of the week.

We hope this decision goes some way towards promoting a better way of doing politics so that more people from all walks of life find it easier to participate in decision making that will affect the way their Students’ Union is run.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said it was for the Conservative party to comment on whether Gauke would apologise, as it was a political rather than a departmental issue.

The Conservative party refused to comment.

11 October 2018

 

 

DWP ignores concerns from disabled people who shun activity over benefit fraud fears

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to offer a solution to disabled people who say they are fearful of taking more exercise in case they have their support cut or are branded benefit cheats.

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

More than a third (34 per cent) had either had their own benefits sanctioned or removed because of being physically active or knew someone this had happened to.

The survey of more than 200 people who either currently or previously received disability benefits such as employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP) – and were involved with disability sports organisations – found almost two-thirds (65 per cent) relied on benefits to be active, so as to pay for travel, specialist equipment or paid-for exercise.

The Activity Trap: Disabled People’s Fear Of Being Active – which was commissioned by the Dwarf Sports Association – says that “ambiguity remains a problem in terms of what level of physical activity is acceptable and what might lead to removal of support”.

One of those surveyed said: “I have a lot of concerns when it comes to benefits and the constant fear of them being taken away or worry of being reassessed.

It then impacts my life and any involvement in sport and physical activity which is none at the moment due to the concerns I have and not wanting my benefits to be taken off me, as DWP are not known for being understanding or nice and will try and find any reason to remove someone’s disability benefits.”

Another said: “The demonisation of disabled people in the media has led to a situation in which many are afraid to participate in sport because they are worried about getting reported for fraud, even if it really isn’t.”

And a third disabled person who took part in the survey described how a friend had lost half her benefits after trying to do more exercise to cope with her pain management.

She was told that to stand any chance of returning to the higher level of benefits “she’d have to give up all but one exercise class and maintain that level for six months”.

Disabled journalist, consultant and broadcaster Mik Scarlet said his fight to receive the level of PIP he needed took a year and caused “a huge emotional toll”.

He said he had begun a well-received video blog on sitting yoga but had been contacted by disabled people “saying they’d be concerned about trying it – in case they were considered fit enough to either work or receive a lower level of financial support.  

The Activity Trap report highlights the desperate situation for far too many disabled people in this country.” 

Activity Alliance also heard from Alan Ringland, chair of the pan-disability Birmingham Ability Accounts League, who said his football league had seen the number of participants drop from 455 to 250 in just three years.

He said: “When you see them again you see that they’ve not been as active as they were, often they have put on weight and over time their health may deteriorate. 

Playing football on a Sunday was one day where they really enjoyed themselves and if they don’t take part anymore they can lose confidence, friendships, and the camaraderie that goes with that.

In many cases, sport is the only regular social activity in their lives, and taking that away can have a massive impact.” 

He told Disability News Service that he believed that 90 per cent of those who had dropped out had done so because they had lost eligibility for PIP and could no longer afford to attend training and regular matches.

Because his two disabled sons played football at international level, Ringland has known for the last 17 years many of the disabled people who currently take part, or previously took part, in the league.

He said former players had lost their travel passes after PIP assessments, while others could no longer afford mobile phones so could not keep in touch with their teams.

Andy Dalby-Welsh, deputy chief executive of Activity Alliance, said: “We want to work with and across government to make active lives for disabled people possible.

We would urge policy makers within national and local government to take on board the calls for action within this report and the spirit with which it was written.”

But a DWP spokeswoman refused to say if the problem of disabled people resisting physical activity because of the fear of losing their benefits was something the department recognised, what action DWP could take to deal with the problem, or even what advice DWP would give to disabled people facing this problem.

Instead, she said in a statement: “We are committed to ensuring disabled people get the support they need and we’re providing £5.4 billion more on the main disability benefits this year than we did in 2010.

PIP is a non-means-tested benefit to help with the costs of someone’s disability or health condition and under it 30 per cent of people get the highest rate of support, compared with 15 per cent under DLA.

Assessments are based on a wide range of evidence to ensure people get the support they need.”

She said Public Health England would shortly publish guidance on fitness for disabled people.

11 October 2018

 

 

British Council tries to dodge Equality Act, after signing up to Disability Confident

The government-funded organisation responsible for promoting the UK’s culture and education abroad is asking an employment tribunal to allow it to dodge its duty – under the Equality Act – not to discriminate against disabled people.

The British Council is attempting to argue that English teacher Emily Frisby is not entitled to protection under the act because she was working for the charity as a teacher in Morocco at the time and was therefore being employed locally.

The charity is trying to use this as a defence even though it has signed up to the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident employment scheme, which aims to help employers recruit and retain disabled people.

Frisby says she experienced months of disability discrimination at the hands of British Council managers, after transferring to Morocco from Vietnam last year.

Now she wants the British Council to ensure that “no one else is subjected to the same disregard and humiliating treatment” she experienced.

She added: “I don’t see how British Council Morocco can continue to advertise itself as Disability Confident.”

After transferring to Morocco, she was denied the reduced hours she had in her previous British Council job, which worsened her health condition, and was forced to take a “protracted and dehumanising” grievance procedure because of the refusal to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed.

Managers also refused to provide her with a laptop – which they claimed would have cost just £1,000, before eventually finding a spare computer after she launched her grievance – while one manager made a joke about her hearing aid in a meeting (although he later denied this).

While she was still trying to secure the reasonable adjustments she needed to do her job as an English teacher, she had to attend an equality training session, and watch as two non-disabled teachers were asked to walk around pretending to be blind and deaf.

Frisby said: “I could not fully participate in the meeting about inclusion due to my own hearing loss and difficulty communicating in a noisy environment. 

I was really shocked and upset that I was being lectured to about disability whilst my own personal experience as a disabled person and requests for understanding were simultaneously being ignored.”

Her condition affects her hearing and balance, and symptoms include vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus, all of which can be triggered by stress.

But, she claims, when she tried to secure the reasonable adjustments she needed on arrival in Morocco, managers had questioned her impairment, bullied and harassed her, and refused to provide the reasonable adjustments she needed.

When managers eventually offered her a reduced hours contract, the proposal “effectively meant working more hours for lower pay”, according to a report by a British Council director.

As a result of her treatment, she was signed off work with stress and anxiety and an exacerbation of the symptoms of her condition.

In a statement submitted to the employment tribunal, she says: “It has been a long, stressful, humiliating, bewildering and as yet unresolved process which has had the opposite of the desired effect of getting support at work and I am now just as concerned about the general culture of bullying and intimidation at work as I am about the original issues around ‘reasonable adjustments’.”

An internal British Council investigation into her allegations upheld her complaint about the failure of managers to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed.

But the organisation’s lawyers are now trying to argue that she should not be offered the protection of the Equality Act as she was employed overseas on local terms and conditions and was subject to local laws.

They will put that case to an employment tribunal later this month.

They are arguing that the Equality Act does not apply to the British Council’s actions in Morocco, even though it is a UK charity, receives funding from the UK government, is sponsored by the Foreign Office, and has signed up to Disability Confident.

The British Council’s actions in north Africa come just weeks after international development secretary Penny Mordaunt spent much of a high-profile disability summit in London telling other countries to sign up to a new global charter that would commit them to eliminating discrimination and “challenging harmful attitudes and practices”.

In upholding an internal complaint Frisby made about her treatment, John Mitchell, the British Council’s director in Morocco, concluded that her “grievance regarding reasonable adjustments has been upheld”.  

He added: “I acknowledge that for various reasons, best practice and procedure were not followed as they should have been.

I very much regret this and apologise on behalf of the British Council for our failures in this respect.”

Although he dismissed her complaint of bullying and harassment, he “acknowledged that at times tensions and stress levels ran high, and that British Council values might not have been fully met by all parties at all times”.

This followed a report by another senior British Council executive, Justin Spence, the organisation’s deputy director in Tunisia, who concluded that the refusal “to invest £1k [in a laptop] was both a rejection of [reasonable adjustments] and sent a signal regarding the level of priority management assigned to her request”.

He also concluded that there had been “disturbing elements” to the treatment she received and said in his report that “management may have crossed a red line in terms of intimidation/bullying”, although he concluded that there was “a lack of sufficient hard evidence” to prove bullying or harassment.

A British Council spokeswoman said: “We are aware of this case. However, as the details are part of ongoing legal proceedings, we are unable to comment at this stage.”

11 October 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 15:10
Oct 072018
 

Thanks to Nigel Peirce for setting up our Preston DPAC Group, which brings our growing number of local DPAC’s to 39, in towns and cities in all parts of the UK. 

DPAC members in the Preston area can join by emailing prestondpac@gmail.com

If you want to know if there is a DPAC group in your area, check out the list of DPAC groups with  contact details.

If you can’t find a DPAC group to join, why not consider setting one up? If you are interested, email us on mail@dpac.uk.net to find out what’s involved

 Posted by at 15:04
Oct 062018
 
Our Massive Tory Cuts Kill Banner

Our Massive Tory Cuts Kill Banner

On Wednesday 3rd of October about 40 activists from many parts of the country including Brighton, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol, Berkshire, London, Manchester, Norfolk, Northampton, Preston Stafford, Suffolk, Warwickshire, Wolverhampton, Castle Bromwich and even Birmingham descended on Birmingham to protest at the Tory Party Conference and bring attention to the continuous attacks we have faced for the last 8 years.

Our thanks to all of them for giving up their time and energy to come and join us.

It was also DPAC’s 8th birthday as we were formed in October 2010 in response to the Tory’s austerity proposals so time too to celebrate doing what we do best.

DPAC Protesters moving en masse

DPAC Protesters moving en masse

Many thanks as well to Green Black Cross who provided us with a legal observer and also to West Midlands police for facilitating our protest even though they must have been pretty knackered given the number of protests they’ve had to facilitate this week.

We started off right next to the Conference Venue in an area together with women from WASPI, 2-3 UKIP supporters, and some pro-Remain supporters. Whether or not to protest here was discussed fully the day before with numerous activists since it would have been easy for the police to kettle us. However the unanimous decision was to go ahead with this protest location.

DPAC Protesters blocking Birmingham's tram routes

DPAC Protesters blocking Birmingham’s tram routes

Then we split into groups to pursue different options with some people remaining outside the centre and others going off into central Brum to hold up the tram and hand out leaflets to passers by.

Here is a news report of the protest https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/tory-cuts-kill-yell-disabled-activists-as-theresa-may-prances-on-stage

DEAD PEOPLE DON’T CLAIM – DISABLED PEOPLE AGAINST THE CUTS AT TORY CONFERENCE

Further images below:

 

 Posted by at 22:37
Oct 052018
 
DPAC Logo

Many people email us at DPAC wanting to tell their own story about what it’s like to be a disabled person in Britain today. So we’re putting up a place where people who wish to can record their own story.

There are three main categories, about Social Care, Access & Discrimination and about being a Welfare Claimant.

We would also like to collect your stories to use to campaign. For example we may use your story in our blog, in our research reports or we may share it with academic researchers.

You may leave your name or tell your story anonymously, its up to you. We also ask that you include an email address so we can get in contact but you don’t have to leave an email address if you don’t want to.

If you have different stories to tell about more than one subject please fill in the form as many times as you like, once for each subject area

Sometimes we get requests from Journalists who want to interview people on a particular subject such as Social Care. If you give your consent by ticking a box on the form, we may pass on your details to a journalist for a possible interview at a later date, but that is only if you give your consent by ticking the box in the form.

If you wish to record your story about your experiences of Social Care, follow this link

If you wish to record your story about your experiences of Access and Discrimination, follow this link

If you wish to record your story about your experiences of being a Welfare Benefit Claimant, follow this link

If you have more than one story you wish to tell or you have stories in more than one of the three subject areas, you can fill in the forms a number of times

 

 Posted by at 15:21
Oct 042018
 

[With thanks to John Pring, Editor DNS]

Tory conference: Charity’s silence on universal credit deaths, hours after minister announces £51m funding

A charity has refused to criticise the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) over four deaths linked to universal credit, hours after a minister announced it would receive tens of millions of pounds to support claimants on the new benefit system.

Work and pensions secretary Esther McVey told the Conservative party conference on Monday that the advice charity Citizens Advice would receive the funding to deliver support to claimants.

It will be delivered through “universal support”, which provides universal credit claimants with advice and assistance, particularly with budgeting and the online aspects of their claims.

Since last year, local authorities have provided this service, funded by DWP, but Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland will take responsibility for delivering a “strengthened” version across England, Wales and Scotland from next April.