Mar 212019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:11
Mar 212019
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:11
Mar 212019
 

Disabled young people have been cheated by support reforms, MPs hear

Disabled young people have told MPs how they have been “cheated” by the government’s new system for supporting pupils and students through school and college.

MPs on the Commons education committee heard how disabled pupils were being denied a voice in drawing up their education, health and care plans (EHCPs), and how they were not receiving what had been promised in those plans.

The committee also heard that EHCPs were too focused on education, rather than being “life focused”.

The committee heard from seven disabled young people on Tuesday as part of its inquiry into the impact of the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reforms introduced by the government through its Children and Families Act 2014*.

Three of them – Jordan, Ben and Eva – were part of the RIP: STARS research team, a project led by disabled young people and researchers at Coventry University, which also included support from The Alliance for Inclusive Education, and looked at the quality of EHCPs and whether they met disabled children and young people’s rights.

Jordan said some of their findings had been “stunning”, and that he and many other disabled young people “feel we were cheated out of the education system and treated poorly by them”.

He said they made the “atrocious” discovery that disabled children “weren’t actually being involved in the process of their EHCPs”, with the main discussions taking place “without talking to the child themselves”.

He said plans were “either being delayed, mistaken, poorly done and they are not meeting the needs of the child”, and he called for something to be done to ensure that plans “are being carried out correctly by staff” and “not just ignored and forgotten”.

Eva, another member of RIP: STARS, said: “We found out that what was written in the plan was not being followed through, so many children aren’t receiving the support and the correct education that they need and they are missing out on their education and childhood.”

She said the plans were not preparing disabled children and young people for independence and adulthood.

Eva said the plans should use the language of the social model of disability “so children are not defined by labels and they are not seen as a problem”.

She added: “Disabled children have a right to mainstream education, so they should achieve support to achieve this and be in mainstream education if they choose to do so.”

Ben, a third disabled young person from RIP: STARS, said EHCPs were “too educational focused and not life focused, so children are not receiving the support they need in other important areas such as developing independence, having choice and control, achieving aspirations, life goals, friends, access in the community.”

He said it was not right that disabled pupils who do not fit in with the “norms and roles and rules of education” were often “shipped off, excluded, offloaded, or hidden in other places” and “forgotten about”.

Francesca, one of two deaf pupils on the National Deaf Children’s Society’s (NDCS) young people’s advisory board who gave evidence, told the committee that a lack of support at school meant she missed out on social situations and on learning “how to be confident and empowered”.

She said she had even been encouraged to use a separate “SEND room” at lunch, which also made it harder to build friendships with non-disabled pupils.

She said: “It’s showing to the other students that these people need to be kept separate, which I feel is the wrong attitude completely.

It should be about inclusivity and empowering those people.”

Francesca said that meetings about EHCPs sometimes happened without the disabled young person being present.

She said: “It’s really frustrating because you feel you can make your own decisions because it is your own support.”

Another member of the NDCS advisory board, Ella, said she was “really struggling” to secure the support she needed through the EHCP process, with the local council currently refusing to provide her with a plan because it did not think she was deaf enough.

As a result, she said, her grades were “far below what they should be”.

And she said the only people the council would listen to were her parents, and not her.

Simran, who is studying accountancy and management at Queen Mary University of London and was with the charity my AFK, said: “As a disabled woman, I have to work harder than everyone else to achieve anything.

I think it’s a great shame that young people with SEND are left unsupported and their achievements are unappreciated.

I’m a 21-year-old studying accountancy and I want to be an accountant, I want to work, I want to contribute to the economy and society, but I feel like there’s not very many opportunities for me to do so.”

Kashifa, who is studying at college and was also with my AFK, said she had received “a lot more support” when she was at school.

She said: “Even though we had meetings about me going to college, I’m not sure they really understood my needs when I got there.

I think people make a judgement about what you’re capable of based on your appearance.

I know people mean well and they know you get anxious in certain situations, and they want to try to protect you, but this just means you won’t be able to try anything because people think you won’t be able to cope, so the opportunities stop.”

She added: “I don’t need people to tell me I need to be realistic, either.

I want to work things out for myself and then be able to make the choice.

I don’t need to be protected all the time, I just need the chance to try different things and then I can decide.”

*Under government reforms which came into effect in September 2014, local authorities in England had until April 2018 to move all disabled children and young people eligible for support from SEN statements to new EHCPs. The plans last from birth to the age of 25 and set out all the support they should receive across education, health and social care.

21 March 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:10
Mar 212019
 

Domestic violence services even worse 10 years on, says report

Regressive government policies have disproportionately affected the ability of disabled women who have experienced violence and abuse to access the services they need, according to a new report.

Shaping Our Lives (SOL), which has written the report, says some services have been discriminating against disabled women under the Equality Act because of a lack of knowledge and training, and a “pitiful” lack of accessible buildings.

It says that these failures are a clear breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The report, A Refuge for All, was published this week after two years of research led by disabled women with experience of violence and abuse.

It compares the situation with the findings of the Making the Links report published 10 years ago by Women’s Aid, which found that although disabled women were twice as likely to experience domestic violence and abuse as non-disabled women, they faced significant barriers in accessing services.

SOL’s report concludes that little has changed in the last 10 years and in some cases provision has worsened.

Because of cuts to services, disabled women have often not been able to secure local support, and they have faced lengthy waiting-times and have had to travel long distances to secure support.

Just as there was 10 years ago, there is a lack of accessible information; refuges and other buildings providing services are still inaccessible; and there is still a lack of knowledge and understanding by professionals.

Disabled women also still face the risk of having their children removed by social services if they escape an abusive or violent partner.

Research suggests that the number of disabled women experiencing violence and abuse has been increasing, says the report, while disabled victims of domestic abuse “suffer more severe and frequent abuse over longer periods of time than non-disabled victims”.

The project worked in two areas, Bexley in south-east London, and Birmingham, to examine how local services could be made more inclusive for disabled women.

The report concludes: “The pilot site interventions demonstrate that training and advice from disabled women and user-led organisations can have an enormous impact on services’ readiness to work confidently with disabled women and that a number of small inexpensive adaptations can improve the accessibility of the service delivery.”

SOL’s Becki Meakin, the project manager and author of the report, said: “It was very worrying to hear about the experiences of disabled women seeking support from violence and abuse.

I expected to see progress in the last 10 years, but instead access to services has worsened and sometimes was non-existent in a woman’s local area.”

She added: “The regressive funding policies for violence and abuse services has reduced provision for all women, but it has disproportionately affected access for disabled women who in turn are almost three times more likely to experience violence and abuse.”

The report was funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Tampon Tax Fund.

Among its recommendations for improvements, the report calls for a central resource of information for disabled women; investment in more accessible refuge spaces; disability equality training for staff; access action plans for each service; and co-production of services with disabled women.

Meakin said: “I believe that only by listening to and working equally with disabled women experiencing violence and abuse will we be able to increase their sense of self-worth and remove the practical, prejudicial and systemic barriers that exclude them from using violence and abuse services.”

The project has also published a toolkit which can be used by services to assess themselves against best practice and devise a plan of action for improvement, often at low cost.

Ashley Stephen, co-founder of Disabled Survivors Unite, who helped with the project, said: “This project is vitally important and showcases the unique barriers that disabled women face in accessing domestic abuse services.

One disabled woman being turned away due to an inaccessible refuge is too many.”

Disability Labour also said the report was of vital importance.

Fran Springfield, co-chair of Disability Labour, said: “As someone who is a survivor of domestic violence, I know how inaccessible refuges can be.

It is important that women fleeing domestic violence have a safe space, not only in terms of physical and emotional safety, but also that it meets their accessibility needs.

We know that domestic violence services are receiving far less money than they need to be able to provide these crucial services, which undoubtedly save lives.

We would encourage councils to ringfence such funding and look to supporting refuges to enable much-needed adaptations to be made.”

21 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 16:07
Mar 212019
 

Still no replacement for Newton, seven days after resignation

The government has given no indication of when – or even if – it intends to appoint a replacement for the minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, who resigned last week over Brexit.

Nearly a week after Newton’s resignation, no replacement has been announced.

A spokesperson for Number 10 said yesterday (Wednesday): “As soon as there is one, we would announce it in the usual way.

I haven’t got any guidance on when that appointment will be.”

As the appointment of a new minister will be a political decision, he suggested that Disability News Service (DNS) contact the prime minister’s press secretary, Paul Harrison, but he had not responded by noon today (Thursday).

Newton was the seventh Conservative minister for disabled people since the 2010 general election, following Maria Miller, Esther McVey, Mike Penning, Mark Harper, Justin Tomlinson and Penny Mordaunt.

Only last month, she was forced to apologise to MPs after DNS caught her misleading MPs about support for disabled people for the fourth time in less than a year.

In December, Newton was unable to explain why she had failed to make any public statement to support disabled people’s battle for rights on the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

It was the second year in a row – following her appointment in November 2017 – that she had demonstrated a lack of interest in domestic and international efforts to further disabled people’s rights on the UN day.

And in October, she appeared to breach the ministerial code of conduct after refusing to answer questions from DNS at her party’s annual conference and then suggesting that civil servants could answer them for her instead, even though it was a political event.

21 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:07
Mar 212019
 

Autistic campaigners to protest outside charity over regime of care home abuse

Autistic campaigners are to protest outside the headquarters of a national autism charity next week to highlight what they say is its abhorrent failure to act on a regime of abuse that took place at one of its care homes.

The protest in London on 29 March by two autistic-led organisations – Autistic Inclusive Meets and Autistic UK – will highlight the lack of justice for those abused at Mendip House, in Highbridge, Somerset.

Official reports show the National Autistic Society (NAS) failed to share the results of internal investigations into Mendip House with Somerset County Council or the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

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

After a whistleblower came forward three years ago, a council investigation revealed [PDF] widespread abuse at the home.

CQC had failed to uncover and halt the abuse through its inspection regime, and had not inspected the home for more than two years by the time it was contacted by the whistleblower.

It then carried out an urgent inspection in May 2016 and began civil enforcement action to close Mendip House.

A council investigation discovered that staff had thrown cake at autistic service-users, taunted them with food, and used their money to pay for staff meals on outings, with nearly £10,000 later having to be repaid.

One resident was sent to his room because he refused to eat an onion, another was made to crawl on the floor on all fours, and a resident “absconded” from the home without staff realising.

Medication went missing, and one resident was said to be “known to flinch in the presence of particular employees”.

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

One report suggests that one service-user was forced to eat a pizza covered in mustard, and yogurt mixed with mustard, and when they were sick, had to drink their vomit in a glass of water.

An audit by NAS in October 2015 identified “43 areas for improvement”, but the charity failed to report this to CQC.

And although five members of staff – including the manager and deputy manager – were sacked, and Mendip House was closed in August 2016 before CQC could take any further regulatory action, concerns have also been raised about six other services on NAS’s large Somerset Court site, which remain open.

A safeguarding review commissioned by the council revealed that “critical information” about the wider Somerset Court site, including “poor staff conduct, alleged assaults and drug use or sale”, had not been shared beyond senior managers at Somerset Court, who took no action.

The council’s own inquiry concluded that NAS was “a large provider where the risks of them not investigating and managing safeguarding incidents effectively in their services remains high”.

It also highlighted concerns about the charity’s “staff recruitment, incident reporting, decision-making, disciplinary procedures and the attitude of the senior management”.

Emma Dalmayne, chief executive of AIM, said CQC’s decision to fine NAS only £4,000, and not to prosecute the charity, was “disgusting”.

She said: “We need to say this can’t happen again. We can’t take this lying down, we can’t just say nothing.”

She added: “I can’t understand as an autistic adult, as an owner of an autistic organisation, how this could happen.

There’s no justice for the victims, no justice for their families.

The NAS is worth millions, £4,000 is what it costs approximately to keep someone of highly complex needs in care for two weeks and that’s all they were fined, that’s all they were worth: £4,000. I’m devastated.”

Errol Kerr, chair of Autistic UK, said: “The entire situation surrounding Mendip House is abhorrent.

Not only have the NAS attempted to suppress knowledge about the abuse, but they have refused to take moral responsibility even in the face of a CQC investigation.

What is worse, however, is that the body that is supposed to enforce codes of good practice, the CQC, has let us down on every level.

Ruling that a fine of £4,000 was all that was needed in this situation clearly shows that the CQC has no regard for the years of inflicted trauma, manipulation and exploitation of at-risk, vulnerable autistic people.”

He said it was “of paramount importance” to defend the autistic people who were affected.

NAS apologised for the abuse, which it said was “appalling”, and the failure of local managers to take action when abuse was reported to them.

An NAS spokesperson said the charity “should not have allowed this mistreatment and abuse to happen” and that it had introduced a “range of improvements” since 2016.

He said it was still running the other services at Somerset Court because “there is a need”.

Asked how NAS could speak on behalf of autistic people on rights issues after what had happened, he said: “We will never stop campaigning with and for autistic people and their families.

We don’t believe that withdrawing from active campaigning would benefit anyone.”

Asked whether its long-serving chief executive, Mark Lever, should consider his own position, the spokesperson said he had already announced – last month – that he would be leaving the charity.

The spokesperson added: “We want to make sure that any protest runs as smoothly as possible and are of course ready to cooperate in any way we can.

As at last year’s protest, we will be ready to hear their concerns and welcome the opportunity to discuss the changes we’ve made to our systems and practices since 2016.”

CQC has declined to say whether its failure to inspect Mendip House for more than two years before the whistleblower came forward had helped the abusers avoid exposure.

It has also declined to say why it allowed the other Somerset Court services to stay open and why it failed to expose the abusive regime through its regular inspection process, rather than having to be alerted by a whistle-blower.

But Debbie Westhead, CQC’s interim chief inspector of adult social care, said in a statement: “The people who lived in Mendip House were very badly failed by those whose responsibility it was to care for them.

When CQC inspected in May 2016 we rated Mendip House as inadequate, and began action to cancel the registration of Mendip House.

This action was overtaken by the National Autistic Society decision to close the service; a decision that we supported.

We also investigated whether we could prosecute the National Autistic Society for failing to keep people safe, but were not able to do so due to insufficient evidence.

The descriptions of abuse at Mendip House are extremely distressing and the final decision not to proceed with the prosecution was a complex and difficult one.

Separately, the police explored the possibility of criminal prosecutions against individuals but were also unable to proceed due to lack of corroborating evidence.

The action that we were able to take was a fixed penalty notice against the provider for failing to protect people from financial abuse, resulting in a fine of £4,000, which is the maximum amount allowed in law.”

21 March 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:06
Mar 212019
 

CQC admits one in five social care services have not been inspected in two years

Nearly 5,000 adult social care services – nearly one in five – have not had an inspection by the care regulator in the last two years, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) have revealed.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) figures have raised fresh doubts as to whether the regulator is fit for purpose, while Labour’s shadow social care minister has said they are “highly concerning”.

The figures were released to Disability News Service days after the latest revelations concerning a care home run by the National Autistic Society, where autistic people were taunted, abused and ill-treated by staff.

Mendip House, in Somerset, had itself not been inspected by CQC for more than two years when whistleblowers came forward and exposed the abusive regime in 2016 (see separate story).

The new FoIA figures show that 4,859 adult social care services have not been inspected by CQC in more than two years, out of 25,590 services in total (19 per cent).

Many of the 25,590 are new services that are still awaiting a first CQC rating, so the proportion of services that have been open for at least two years and have not been inspected for at least two years will be even higher than 19 per cent.

But the figures also reveal other concerns about the commission and its work.

They show striking falls in the number of inspections carried out by the watchdog over the last couple of years; a significant increase in the number of inspections cancelled or rescheduled; and a sizeable drop over the last three years in the number of adult social care inspectors working for CQC.

A CQC spokesperson said that some of this was due to a new method of regulation, adopted in 2014, which was based on “ratings and risk”.

She claimed the commission was now “even better at identifying risk, meaning that we can prioritise our activity to where the need is greatest”.

The FoIA response showed the number of CQC’s “full-time equivalent” adult social care inspectors fell from 881 in December 2015 to 812 in December 2018.

The number of adult social care inspections that were cancelled or rescheduled rose from 6,498 in 2017 to 8,296 in 2018.

And the number of adult social care inspections carried out by CQC fell from 15,271 in 2016 to 13,106 in 2017, and again to 11,618 in 2018.

Statistics provided by the regulator to its latest public board meeting (PDF) in February raise further concerns.

They show that only three-fifths of planned inspections of adult social care services that had been branded “inadequate” or “requiring improvement” were carried out on time.

Barbara Keeley, Labour’s shadow minister for social care, said: “It is highly concerning that nearly one in five social care establishments have not been inspected for over two years.

We saw in the recent Mendip House case how quickly a care home can deteriorate – often in a matter of months.

As government cuts to social care budgets force providers to cut corners, infrequent inspections are putting disabled and older people at risk.

We cannot allow providers to provide poor quality care due to a lack of oversight: that is why Labour’s plans for ethical commissioning would require local authorities and the CQC to better monitor care providers.”

CQC said that its decision to inspect services seen as good or outstanding only every 30 months helped explain a “significant” number of re-scheduled inspections, and many of the services that had not been inspected in more than two years.

By February 2017, it said, it had finished inspecting all adult social care services registered with CQC in October 2014 and had then moved to the next phase of its new ratings- and risk-based model of regulation, with “increased focus on using information and intelligence to form a better picture of what is happening in the delivery of people’s care to assess and prioritise risk”.

It also said it had introduced new roles to “complement the inspection workforce”, such as assistant inspectors.

CQC has so far failed to say if it believes the figures show it is a failing organisation; whether it needs an injection of funding; and whether it is putting the safety of disabled and older people at risk and is therefore likely to be exposing them to serious breaches of their human rights.

It has also failed to say whether the Mendip House abuse scandal showed that its risk-based system was putting the safety of disabled people at risk, and that it therefore needed to introduce annual, unannounced inspections of all adult social care services.

But it did say: “CQC has a healthy budget, a strong and hardworking workforce and we continually review all of the resources at our disposal in order to be as efficient as possible in ensuring care providers are living up to their legal responsibilities.”

Debbie Westhead, CQC’s interim chief inspector for adult social care, said in a statement: “In 2014 we completely overhauled the way we regulate adult social care, moving to a ratings and risk based model.

We are now even better at identifying risk, meaning that we can prioritise our activity to where the need is greatest.

We know from our latest State of Care report that most people are getting good care; over four-fifths of adult social care services are rated as good or outstanding, a testimony to the hard work of thousands of frontline staff.

In 2018 we moved the frequency of inspections for good and outstanding services to 30 months.

However, if during this time we get any information of concern we will prioritise our activity to ensure that we are protecting people from risk.

We are now taking more enforcement action than ever before because we are using the information and analysis at our disposal more effectively in order to target our inspection activities to those services where there is the greatest risk to the quality and safety of people’s care.

Since April 2017 to January 2019 we’ve taken around 2,000 enforcement actions against all adult social care providers and we will continue to take action wherever necessary to make sure that all people are getting the good, quality care they need.”

21 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 16:05
Mar 212019
 

Jodey Whiting petition: DWP ‘has blood on its hands’, says Green party

Labour and the Green party have backed a petition that calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the failings of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and an investigation into potential criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants.

The Green party co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, himself the father of a disabled son, said this week that DWP had “blood on its hands”.

Less than a week after the launch of the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition* last Friday (15 March), more than 6,000 people have already signed it.

It needs to reach 100,000 signatures by 15 September to be eligible for debate by MPs in the House of Commons.

Among those who have supported it are the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson and the disabled comedian and writer Francesca Martinez.

The petition now has the support of the relatives of seven disabled people whose deaths are linked to DWP failings.

Since last week, the daughter of Susan Roberts has backed the petition (see separate story), telling Disability News Service (DNS) that she would feel a sense of “justice” if she saw former DWP ministers facing charges in a criminal court.

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

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

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

As well as an inquiry, the petition says that evidence of misconduct by civil servants and ministers should be handed to police for a possible criminal investigation into misconduct in public office.

It also says that DWP should be branded “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose” and calls for urgent steps to ensure that the safety of all benefit claimants is a priority for the department.

Two years ago, the Green party issued its own call for an inquiry into deaths linked to DWP’s actions.

A letter sent in February 2017 to the then work and pensions secretary Damian Green, co-signed by Bartley, said: “The more time passes without an inquiry, the longer concerns will remain and questions will hang over the procedures used by your department to handle benefits.”

The party compiled a dossier of 50 deaths of benefit claimants where the party said it had “good reason to believe” their treatment at the hands of DWP had been a factor in their deaths.

This week, Bartley told DNS: “The DWP clearly has blood on its hands.

The evidence of the department’s failings is now overwhelming and there must be an independent inquiry with those responsible held to account. 

This should include turning over the findings to the police for criminal charges to be brought, where appropriate.”

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, also said this week that the campaign and petition had her “full support”.

Asked to comment on the petition, a DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to safeguarding vulnerable claimants and, in the tragic case where someone dies, ensuring that we respond swiftly and sensitively.

We have changed guidance so that our staff update a claim where someone has died within 48 hours, making sure we stop all unnecessary contact as quickly as possible.

And we have robust safeguarding in place to protect and support vulnerable people, including the resource to carry out safeguarding visits.”

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

21 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 Posted by at 16:04
Mar 212019
 

Jodey Whiting petition: Seventh family demands justice over DWP benefit deaths

The disabled daughter of a woman who took her own life after losing her disability benefits has explained why she believes ministers and senior civil servants should face prosecution for the deaths they have caused.

Hayley Storrow-Servranckx spoke out this week to back a new parliamentary petition that calls for an inquiry into deaths linked to the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and for that inquiry to pass any evidence of criminal misconduct by ministers and civil servants to the police.

The petition – Justice for Jodey Whiting. Independent inquiry into deaths linked to the DWP* – brands DWP “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose” and demands urgent action to make the safety of all benefit claimants a priority.

Within five days, the petition had secured more than 6,000 signatures. It needs to reach 100,000 within six months to be eligible for a debate in parliament.

The relatives of Susan Roberts this week became the seventh family to back the petition, in addition to support from four grassroots groups of disabled activists – Black TriangleDisabled People Against CutsMental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign – and DNS.

Storrow-Servranckx told DNS that she would feel a sense of “justice” if she saw former DWP ministers facing charges in a criminal court.

She said: “It would be some form of justice for those people who are not here anymore and have not got a voice.

That’s all we have ever wanted, the families, we just want justice, because without [DWP’s actions] our family members would still be here, no question about it.

To have somebody in front of a judge and jury and to be sentenced for crimes that made somebody kill themselves is exactly what needs to be done and needed to be done a long time ago.”

Storrow-Servranckx said she believed there should be a police investigation just as there would be if she was responsible for causing someone’s death by suicide.

The body of her mother was discovered in May 2016 by a care worker at her warden-assisted flat near Tunbridge Wells, Kent, the day after she had received a letter saying her appeal against losing her personal independence payment (PIP) had been turned down.

An inquest into the 68-year-old’s death did not record a verdict of suicide, but her daughter is convinced that she took her own life, because of the way she died, and because her body was discovered surrounded by her PIP paperwork and a “do not resuscitate” notice.

She had previously received an indefinite award of disability living allowance, at the higher rate of mobility and the low rate of care, but she was told she was not entitled to PIP.

DWP had taken just six days to reject her mandatory reconsideration, before she had even had a chance to send a letter explaining why she disagreed with the initial decision, with a civil servant telling her that “it was not felt any further evidence we received would change the findings based on your assessment”.

In her letter, which she left beside her body, she described the impact of ME on her daily life, which she said provided a window of just two or three hours every day in which she was free of symptoms such as exhaustion, dizziness and inability to concentrate.

She said she had chronic, progressive ischaemic heart disease, and was experiencing “excruciating pain” from a gall bladder that could not be removed because of her heart condition.

Her letter also described how a care worker visited her every day to provide painful rectal irrigation and then give her a shower, how she was deeply depressed and had been so “for a long time”, and that her doctor knew that she wanted to die.

She did not attend her tribunal appeal, which was decided only on written documents and again found her ineligible for PIP.

DWP has previously insisted that there was “no evidence to suggest any link” between the death of Susan Roberts and her benefit claim, and that neither the department nor Atos – the much-criticised outsourcing company which assessed her – believed they had made any mistakes in her case, pointing out that the tribunal had “upheld the original decision”.

But Storrow-Servranckx said her mum had made it clear in her original PIP claim form that she had suicidal thoughts, and DWP had made no effort to protect her.

She said her mum had written on her PIP form that she had contemplated suicide and had told her doctor how much she wanted to die, but could not take her own life because of her Christian faith.

Storrow-Servranckx, who herself has been assessed for both PIP and employment and support allowance, said the thousands of deaths linked to the actions of DWP had been “swept under the carpet” and needed to be “brought up and discussed in the House of Commons”.

She said: “It’s not just my mum. There are thousands and thousands of other people – including other members of my own family – who are affected.

The benefits system has clearly failed. It is not working. It is dangerous.

They clearly must hold their hands up and say, ‘Our failing system has caused the deaths of thousands of innocent people.’”

She said she now hoped the petition – and the support from the other six families – would encourage other relatives to come forward and speak out.

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

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

21 March 2019

 Posted by at 16:03
Mar 212019
 

DWP’s latest confession on safety: ‘We keep no record of complaints linked to deaths’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing fresh allegations of negligence – potentially criminal – after admitting that it keeps no records of how many of the complaints it receives involve the death of a claimant of disability benefits.

The admission came in response to a freedom of information request from Disability News Service (DNS), which arrived just 24 hours before the launch of a new parliamentary petition* calling for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings.

It adds to mounting evidence that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose and will fuel calls for urgent changes to its policies and administration of benefits to ensure it makes the safety of all claimants a priority, as demanded by the petition.

DNS had asked in the freedom of information request how many of the complaints submitted to the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) about DWP involved a claimant of a disability-related benefit who had died before that complaint was submitted.

The request followed an ICE report into the death of Jodey Whiting, who had a long history of mental distress and took her own life 15 days after her disability benefits were stopped for missing a work capability assessment when she was seriously ill.

The ICE report concluded that DWP had failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her death, and that it had been guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case.

ICE reviews complaints about government departments that deal with benefits, work and financial support, but can only investigate concerns after that department has delivered its own “final response” to a complaint.

Responding to the freedom of information request, DWP said that ICE did not record “the category of information you have requested” because the department itself “uses high level corporate complaint categories to record customer complaints” and these do not include whether a claimant has died.

The only categories DWP offers are: “DWP staff don’t treat me with respect”; “you take too long”; “you’ve got it wrong”; “you haven’t given me the information that suits my needs”; “I can’t access the system”; and “DWP policy is unfair”.

Previous freedom of information admissions by DWP have shown that it has carried out scores of secret peer reviews (later renamed internal process reviews) into the deaths of benefit claimants.

And government-funded research concluded three years ago that DWP’s programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the work capability assessment was linked to 590 suicides in just three years.

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

DNS had asked whether DWP agreed that it was seriously negligent to fail to analyse how many complaints it was receiving in which a claimant had died, particularly those linked to the non-payment or withdrawal of vital benefits.

DNS had also asked how DWP would be able to respond to serious flaws in the system that were leading to loss of life if it did not know how many such complaints were being received about various aspects of its service.

And DNS asked whether Joanna Wallace, the independent case examiner, had any concerns about the failure to record this category of information.

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

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

21 March 2019

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:00
Mar 192019
 

DPAC sends solidarity to ME campaigners subject to recent attacks from researchers whose work they have fairly criticised and journalists repeating accusations with no interest in the real story.
.
A story run by Reuters and picked up by the Daily Mail and Rod Liddle writing for The Times claimed that researchers are leaving the study of treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome because of abuse and harassment from campaigners. There was no mention of the harm that their so-called “treatment” trials had caused or the significant scientific flaws in their research, as covered in an entire special issue of the Journal of Health Psychology. (Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1359105317722370).

ME activist Catherine Hale explains: “It’s the usual pattern: a spurious story about CFS researchers getting online harassment and having to quit their ‘vital’ research. In reality Professor Sharpe is quitting because so many other scientists have trashed his work and exposed PACE as bogus. Professor Wessely’s hand in this is as always because he controls the Science Media Centre which puts out these high profile press releases and all the usual suspects among health journalists lap it up. Rod Liddle spews his usual hate and contempt for people with ME as he does for other oppressed groups. It’s a regular pattern they use to deflect from negative news about PACE or the parliamentary debate that happened for example. We have no pundits in the mainstream media to tell our side of the story. All the public ever hears about is the “ME militant standing in the way of science” narrative.”

The battle that people with ME have to go through to be taken seriously and to receive the support they need is an injustice. It is also part of a wider issue of disability denial that affects all disabled people. The bogus research into CFS “treatment” was central to the development of a model of disability denial behind the design of benefit assessments for ESA and PIP.

The media accusations represent an attack against speaking out by patients against mistreatment. They are an attempt to silence those already suffering oppression and a massive imbalance of power. But they also show that the campaigning is working. Power never cedes graciously and we can’t expect that those losing it will give in without a fight. It is important we show solidarity to those campaigners who are currently under attack and to congratulate them for how far they have come in exposing and challenging injustice.

Messages of solidarity can be sent using the hashtags #millionsmissing #pwme #PACEgate.

For more information on the issues:
ME Action UK have written this letter to the editor of Reuters: https://www.meaction.net/2019/03/14/fighting-for-rigorous-science-and-accurate-reporting/
Articles on why the media are waging war on people with chronic illness by Steve Topple: https://mrtopple.com/2019/03/18/the-twisted-reason-the-media-have-waged-war-on-chronically-ill-and-disabled-people/
Campaigner Nathalie Wright’s article on the struggle to be taken seriously by doctors: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/why-patients-me-demanding-justice-millions-missing-chronic-fatigue-illness-disease-a8133616.html
A condensed briefing about the PACE trial: https://www.s4me.info/threads/science-for-me-pace-briefing-document.3140/
The links between the PACE trial and “welfare reform” by Simon Duffy: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-simon-duffy/the-misleading-research-a_b_9726490.html

 Posted by at 15:33
Mar 152019
 

Relatives of six disabled people who died due to Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failings have backed a new petition to MPs that calls for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to the department’s actions.

The petition – backed by four leading grassroots groups of disabled activists, and Disability News Service (DNS) – says such an inquiry should also investigate potential misconduct by ministers and civil servants.

And it says that any evidence of misconduct contributing to serious harm or deaths of benefit claimants should be passed to the police for a possible criminal investigation.

The petition* – Justice for Jodey Whiting. Independent inquiry into deaths linked to the DWP – brands DWP “institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose”.

And it calls on DWP to “urgently change its policies and administration of social security benefits to make the safety of all claimants a priority”.

The petition has been set up on parliament’s petitions website.

If it reaches 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate by MPs in the House of Commons.

The petition was launched following the death of Jodey Whiting and is set up in her name, with the backing of Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), WOWcampaign and DNS.

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

She had had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA) and took her own life just 15 days later.

The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) concluded that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case.

Her case was mentioned in this week’s prime minister’s questions, after a question from her mother’s MP, Dr Paul Williams.

Her mother, Joy Dove, is supporting the petition.

She said she hoped the ICE findings would “open the floodgates for everyone to stand up and get this issue sorted through parliament”.

Relatives of other families who have lost loved ones as a result of DWP failings are also backing the petition.

Peter Carré, whose son Stephen took his own life in January 2010 after being found fit for work following a WCA – with DWP failing to ask his GP or psychiatrist for further medical evidence that would have proved his eligibility – has backed the petition and the need for a criminal investigation and an independent inquiry.

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

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

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

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

Carré said he believed the law had “consistently been ignored”, and he added: “Failure to take note of and act on the coroner’s recommendations has undoubtedly resulted in many deaths since that time.”

Eleanor Donnachie, who herself has experienced suicidal thoughts and tried to take her own life as a result of the WCA process, lost her brother Paul to suicide after his employment and support allowance was removed because he failed to turn up for a WCA.

It is believed that DWP failed to contact Paul’s GP to ask for detailed information about his mental health, and – as in Jodey Whiting’s case – ignored its own safeguarding guidance by failing to talk to him face-to-face about his support needs.

She said she wanted to see a criminal investigation and an inquiry.

She said: “It’s as if they can do what they like and nothing applies to them.

If I go anywhere to do with DWP that brings it all back and I can feel myself getting angry, really angry, and I want to shout at them, ‘Look, you have killed my brother and now you’re trying to kill me.’”

Jill Gant, whose son Mark Wood starved to death after he was found “fit for work” and lost his out-of-work disability benefits, said she felt she had to support the petition.

Her key concern is DWP’s refusal to ensure that its decision-makers have access to the necessary medical evidence when someone applying for ESA (or universal credit) has not provided evidence of their own.

She told DNS: “I’m glad you’re doing it on behalf of people like Mark.

It’s very important that something is done. I support the cause and I certainly put my name to it.”

Another relative, David Barr, said he wanted to see former work and pensions ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling held accountable for the death of his son, also called David, who had a long-standing mental health condition.

He took his own life in August 2013 after a physiotherapist took just 35 minutes to carry out a face-to-face assessment that led to him being found fit for work.

It is believed that neither the assessor, nor the DWP decision-maker who rubber-stamped that decision, made any attempt to secure further medical evidence from his GP, his psychiatric nurse or his psychiatrist.

His father said: “It’s got to come to an end. They have got to start looking after people. In this day and age we should be doing more.”

A sixth relative supporting the petition is Gill Thompson.

Her brother, David Clapson, died in July 2013 as a result of an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned.

Because he had no money, he couldn’t afford to pay for electricity that would have kept the fridge where he kept his insulin working, in the height of summer, and he had also run out of food.

She said: “They have to stop this. I would like to see a legal case whether David’s name was mentioned or not.

They have to be held accountable. I can’t change what has happened to me, but this should not be happening.

These are avoidable deaths. I still feel that now as strongly as ever.”

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, said he and fellow campaigners “did our utmost” to persuade the criminal justice system in Scotland to open an investigation into work and pensions ministers but had been given no reason for its refusal to do so.

He said: “It’s clear that the dereliction of duty on the part of ministers is still leading to the deaths of claimants, as we said at the time.

Until this matter is addressed, people will continue to suffer catastrophic avoidable harm.

We call upon the police service to take our allegations seriously and to make a thorough investigation into the facts of the case.”

Bob Ellard, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “DPAC fully supports this petition. We believe that these are vital issues that must be debated in parliament.

The reign of terror brought about by this government’s hostile environment towards claimants is causing distress and severe hardship to millions of innocent people, and has resulted in the deaths of too many claimants.”

He added: “The DWP itself is a failing organisation which is chaotic and error-prone in its operation. It is currently not fit for purpose and needs a complete overhaul.”

Denise McKenna, co-founder of MHRN, said: “Survivors of the DWP are acutely aware that some lives do not matter and some institutions are deemed to be above accountability.

Ministers and civil servants responsible for the DWP have known for years that their practices are implicated in numerous deaths yet they continue with the same practices, seemingly safe in the knowledge that they can get away with any level of cruelty and incompetence.

The deaths will only stop if there is rigorous implementation of safeguarding practices which the DWP has shown time and again that it cannot be trusted to put in place or to observe.

MHRN supports this petition; it is surely right that safeguarding is enshrined in DWP practices and that ministers and civil servants are brought to book for the lives they have destroyed, just as anyone else implicated in numerous deaths would be held to account.”  

A WOWcampaign spokesperson said: “WOWcampaign has been fighting for seven years to get this government to show a duty of care to disabled children and adults in the UK by assessing the impact of all disability cuts, as called for by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the UN.

We are keen to support this petition demanding justice for Jodey Whiting as her treatment and the many voices giving testimony to the despair, poverty and humiliation caused by government welfare reforms, published on WOWvoices.uk, reinforce the devastating impact of these policies, and the urgent need for something to change.

We would like to see an independent enquiry into the effect of government welfare policy and a police enquiry into alleged misconduct in public office.

There has to be Justice for Jodey and the countless others whose lives have been devastated by government policy.”

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

*If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the committee

15 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 16:18
Mar 142019
 

Disabled people had rights breached before and after Grenfell fire, says watchdog

Disabled people who died in the Grenfell Tower tragedy had their human rights breached by public bodies that failed to plan how they would evacuate their homes in the event of a fire, a report by the equality and human rights watchdog has concluded.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report says the safety of wheelchair-users and other disabled and older people was overlooked when they were housed on the top floors of the high-rise building.

It says that disabled people and other residents of Grenfell Tower and other nearby housing experienced a series of breaches of their human rights before the fire, including through the failure to ban the combustible cladding that was wrapped around the building, or at least strengthen rules for its use.

But it also says that disabled people’s rights were repeatedly breached in the days and months after the fire.

Disabled people, children, migrants and older people were among the 72 people who died in the Grenfell Tower fire that began in the early hours of 14 June 2017, in homes managed by the state in west London.

The EHRC research, carried out with the social policy think-tank Race on the Agenda, suggests that the right to life of disabled people, older people and families with children was not properly considered in fire safety arrangements, with “particular concerns” about the lack of appropriate planning for evacuating disabled people and other residents.

There is also evidence that the safety notice given to Grenfell residents was only available in English, a language not spoken by many of them.

The report also highlights a continued lack of support after the fire, amounting to inhuman and degrading treatment, particularly in “the inconsistent, and sometimes absent, immediate and long-term support such as medical treatment, counselling, mental health care and adequate housing”.

The report suggests there were breaches of the right to life; the right to safe, adequate housing; and the right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; while disabled people and other groups also faced discrimination in how they were treated after the tragedy.

The report says: “The fact that people with limited mobility were living high up in Grenfell Tower, and faced greater difficulties escaping the fire, raises important questions about discrimination against certain groups, accessibility standards, and whether authorities assessed the impact on disabled people of allocating housing in Grenfell Tower.”

The report includes a series of examples of how disabled people had their rights breached in the days, weeks and months after the fire.

One disabled woman, who had been left traumatised by losing five members of her family in the fire, had her out-of-work disability benefits cut after being assessed by a government contractor just five days later.

The woman, who lost her brother, his wife, and their three children in the fire, had been assessed for her fitness for work on 19 June 2017, five days after the fire.

Her husband, her full-time carer, told researchers that when they told the healthcare professional carrying out the work capability assessment that she had lost her five relatives in the fire, “she didn’t care” and “didn’t consider the suffering” that his wife had been through.

His wife had previously been in the support group for employment and support allowance, for those not expected to carry out any work-related activity, but after the assessment she was placed by the Department for Work and Pensions in the work-related activity group.

The report’s researchers were told that she had since been told to attend a work training scheme, even though her health had worsened since the fire.

One disabled older person, who lives on the 14th floor of a block of flats near Grenfell Tower, told the researchers that he told his children “every day” that if there was a similar fire to the one that devastated Grenfell, they should leave him to struggle down the stairs on his own.

He said: “There are five floors above me… So, if I go down and I stop in the middle, the people behind me will not be able to pass. So, we discussed all these issues.”

The report found that none of the local residents they had spoken to who had been forced to leave their homes after the fire had accepted permanent accommodation, but some said they had felt pressured to return home or take unsuitable offers.

One wheelchair-user was pressured to accept the offer of a permanent flat, even though it was not wheelchair-accessible and she could not access some of the rooms.

She was told: “Oh don’t worry, we’ll get a carer in to look after you, help you out with the kids.”

She was then told that if she did not agree to move into the flat, she would be viewed as making herself intentionally homeless.

The report also describes a wheelchair-user with young children – believed to be the same woman – who was left in emergency housing with just one room and no cooking facilities and had to visit the local swimming pool if she wanted a shower.

The report, Grenfell Residents’ Access to Public Services and Support – part of the commission’s Following Grenfell project – describes the lived experience of people who had been “displaced, traumatised and distressed” by the fire.

It shows the “ongoing difficulties and uncertainty they have faced in accessing a range of advice and support services such as housing, immigration, welfare support and healthcare”.

Among its conclusions, the report says: “There was poor recognition of additional needs and reasonable adjustments when making housing decisions, particularly for disabled people, older people, women and Muslim families.

Residents described the dire state of both emergency and temporary accommodation when being rehoused, posing a threat to their physical and mental health.”

EHRC’s Following Grenfell project aims to influence the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, other public bodies and the public about the equality and human rights issues raised by the fire and its aftermath.

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “Everyone has the right to life and the right to safe, adequate housing, but the residents of Grenfell Tower were tragically let down by public bodies that had a duty to protect them.

It is our hope that the Grenfell Inquiry finds this information relevant and useful as they continue with their work, but we also need to see action taken by public bodies so we never see a repeat of this tragedy.”

14 March 2019

 

 

NHS call for government action on link between mental distress and benefit cuts

The organisation representing NHS service-providers has called on the government to act on the links between mental distress and cuts to benefits, after producing new evidence showing that social security reform has increased demand for mental health services.

NHS Providers spoke out after publishing research showing that more than nine out of ten (92 per cent) mental health trusts that took part in a survey said changes to benefits were increasing demand for mental health services.

And more than six in 10 (63 per cent) said this impact was high, making it the most significant economic and social factor in increasing demand for mental health services.

The NHS Providers report includes a detailed case study of a disabled woman who describes how the process of applying for employment and support allowance (ESA) was so stressful that it caused a relapse in her mental health.

The former mental health nurse told NHS Providers that the ESA process and its repeated assessments were “cruel” and left her feeling powerless, while the work capability assessment process was “the biggest source of worry in my life”.

The report, Addressing the Care Deficit, adds to evidence that shows ESA recipients are at particularly high risk of suicide attempts.

Disability News Service (DNS) has repeatedly drawn the attention of government departments and other public bodies to the findings of NHS Digital’s Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, which showed that more than 43 per cent of ESA claimants had said (when asked in 2014) that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives, compared with about seven per cent of non-ESA claimants.

Despite that evidence, the Cross-Government Suicide Prevention Workplan does not mention DWP, benefits, ESA or universal credit, while ESA and universal credit claimants are not included among the high-risk groups mentioned in the workplan.

The government has also refused to name ESA claimants as a high-risk group in its cross-government suicide prevention strategy.

Public Health England is another organisation that has resisted making this link. In the latest update of its Suicide Prevention Profile, there are 25 risk factors for suicide but they do not include the proportion of the population in local areas that claims ESA.

NHS Providers has now called on the government and its arms-length bodies to act.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, told DNS: “Our report… revealed deep disquiet among mental health trust leaders about the impact of benefits cuts and universal credit on demand for mental health services.

The government and its arms-length bodies should examine the evidence behind this link, and act on it.

We need a benefits system that offers the right support for people who need it, rather than compounding or aggravating mental health problems.”

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

14 March 2019

 

 

DWP silent on figures suggesting ‘fit for work’ deaths may have fallen

Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) suggest that the proportion of disabled people dying soon after being found fit for work may have fallen since the early years of the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).

DWP has refused this week to comment on the figures or even to check on their significance with its own statisticians.

But the figures seem to show a difference between the proportion of people dying after being found fit for work in the first five-and-a-half years of the test, and those dying after being found fit for work between 2014 and 2017.

In one set of figures released this week under the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), DWP told campaigner Frank Zola that a total of 1,358,000 people were found fit for work after a WCA between the test’s introduction in October 2008 and July 2017.

Of these, 5,690 people died within six months of being found fit for work, a proportion of 0.419 per cent.

In the second set of figures (PDF), this time released under the FoIA to independent researcher Mo Stewart, DWP said that 548,620 people were found fit for work between 1 March 2014 and 28 February 2017, with 1,560 (or 0.284 per cent) of them dying within six months of this decision.

This suggests – although further research must be carried out to show exactly how and why the figures changed – that the proportion of people dying within six months of being found fit for work reduced when comparing the period October 2008 to March 2014 with March 2014 to February 2017.

The figures could show – although there may be other explanations – that improvements in the assessment recommended by the first three independent reviews of the WCA, carried out by Professor Malcom Harrington in 2010, 2011 and 2012, may have made it less likely that someone would be found fit for work if they were very unwell.

Even if that was true, the figures would not show that the assessment process was now fit for purpose, as shown by deaths such as that of Jodey Whiting in February 2017.

And Labour MP Ruth George told a Commons debate on disability assessment services yesterday (Wednesday) that a constituent of hers had died on his first day back at work after being found fit for work because DWP had refused to take evidence from his doctors.

But the figures could at least suggest that years of campaigning by disabled activists to highlight the unfairness of the test did have some impact.

Because of the severe impact of being found unfairly fit for work, demonstrated by years of research by activists that have shown links to many deaths, it may also be that these improvements led to fewer lives being lost as a result of the WCA process.

Both FoIA requests were made last year but were only answered by DWP this week. Stewart’s request was made in early November and Zola’s in August. FoIA requests are supposed to be answered within 20 working days.

Stewart said: “If these figures do suggest fewer people are dying within six months after being wrongly found ‘fit for work’ by the WCA then that must be something to celebrate.

However, given the thousands who still live in fear of the arrival of yet another brown envelope from the DWP, let’s hope there will be some improvement in the decisions for chronically ill people who didn’t die following the WCA, but who have suffered following this totally discredited and fatally flawed assessment.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if its figures showed that fewer very ill people were now being found fit for work, or to comment on what appeared to be a continuing unacceptably high number of very ill people dying after being wrongly found fit for work.

But she said in a statement: “This data corresponds to two different and overlapping time periods and cannot be directly compared.

Additionally, the figures are from unpublished information which hasn’t been quality assured to National Statistics or Official Statistics publication standards – they should therefore be treated with caution.”

She added later: “As I explained, the data set you’ve provided cannot be compared so it would not be accurate to draw conclusions from them.”

14 March 2019

 

 

Chancellor ignores calls to act on impact of austerity, as Newton quits over Brexit

The chancellor has ignored repeated calls for the government to take urgent steps to ease the social care funding crisis and other impacts of austerity on disabled people, as he delivered his spring statement.

Hammond’s statement yesterday (Wednesday) was overshadowed by the continuing parliamentary Brexit fiasco, which led to the resignation of disabled people’s minister Sarah Newton.

Hammond made no mention of disabled people in his speech, and his only mention of social care was to say that future spending would be addressed in the budget, which is not expected until October or November.

Although the spring statement was low-key, Hammond still made a series of announcements across areas such as science and technology, immigration, knife crime, the digital advertising market, affordable homes, Brexit, apprenticeships, period poverty in schools, late payments to small businesses, the minimum wage, biodiversity and climate change.

In his response to the statement, the shadow chancellor, Labour’s John McDonnell, told Hammond that he was “implicated in every cut, every closure, and every preventable death of someone waiting for hospital treatment or social care”.

In November 2017, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published research which linked government cuts in adult social care and health spending to nearly 120,000 “excess” deaths in England since 2010.

The research warned that the cuts could continue to be responsible for an additional death toll of up to 100 deaths a day if significant extra funding was not found.

One prominent disabled activist, Mary-Ellen, had a leading role in a short film released on the day of the spring statement by the Labour party, and she referred to the BMJ research.

She said in the film: “It’s hard work trying to get the world to recognise that something terrible is happening here in Britain, one of the richest countries in the world.”

She said: “Councils across the country are forcing disabled people to use nappies instead of giving us the support to go to the toilet when we need it.

For me personally it has affected my mental health. It’s broken me, basically.”

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of Shaping Our Lives, said the spring statement “seems like an irrelevance” while the government “ties itself in knots trying to save itself” over Brexit.

He said: “Social care is one of the policies that is most about ensuring the quality of people’s lives, especially people who need some help.

This government’s priorities and preoccupation with self-preservation bear no relation to ordinary people’s lives, concerns and growing fears and uncertainty.

Hardly surprising then if disabled and older people don’t feature at all in government statements, just one more reason why we should all be very afraid about the state they have got us into.”

Philip Connolly, policy manager for Disability Rights UK, said the failure to mention disabled people in the spring statement should be “a wake up call to the disability sector”.

He questioned why disability organisations have failed to lobby the Treasury directly when all individual government departments had to do so, and when “the Treasury’s own website permits direct dialogue”.

Connolly called for a sector-wide campaign for an inclusive economy, focused upon the next spending review.

Hammond said in his spring statement that he would launch a three-year spending review before the summer recess, with the results to be announced alongside this autumn’s budget.

14 March 2019

 

 

Broken promises have shattered hopes of right to independent living, says Morris

One of the architects of the last Labour government’s “life chances” strategy has described how “broken promises” by successive governments have shattered disabled people’s hopes of a genuine right to independent living.

Dr Jenny Morris, who led the independent living section of Labour’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People strategy, said its publication in 2005 had been a “moment of hope”.

But she described how that sense of optimism “seemed to disappear almost overnight”, following the financial crisis of 2007-08 and the 2010 election, which led to a Tory-led coalition government.

She said that she and others working on Life Chances had made a “fatal error” by not stressing the need for a nationally-funded independent living system “based on the principle of entitlement”, and had not paid enough attention to the growing focus within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on “getting people off benefits”.

Morris was delivering the first Lorraine Gradwell Memorial Lecture, in memory of one of the key figures in the disabled people’s movement, who died in September 2017. It is hoped the lecture will become an annual event.

She was unable to attend in person but a film of her delivering the lecture – which Morris called Broken Promises: Looking Back on “Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People” – was shown in Manchester on Friday (8 March), followed by a question and answer session.

Two disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) that Gradwell founded or co-founded, Breakthrough UK and Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, helped organise the lecture.

Morris described how DWP’s emphasis on cutting the number of benefit claimants had been demonstrated by the employment chapter in the 2005 Life Chances report, which spoke of work being “a component of good health” and emphasised the “beneficial health effects of work”.

In the same year, DWP released research that would form the basis of the work capability assessment (WCA), which she said focused on “getting people off benefits”, “scrutinising whether people are ‘fit for work’” and “people’s supposed attitudes and motivations”, instead of workplace barriers and equal opportunities for work.

Worse than that, she said, was “the denial of people’s own experiences of illness and/or impairment”.

In the last decade, the greatest challenges to the WCA and the introduction of personal independence payment, she said, had often come from people with chronic illness, such as members of the Spartacus network, and, more recently, the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project.

Morris said that she and others working on the Life Chances report had made a “fatal error” in their proposals by failing to recognise that the Independent Living Fund “had more potential to deliver a right to independent living than any reform to local authority social care”.  

Although they had “floated the idea” that independent living should be funded nationally and “taken away from local authorities”, they did not challenge the government’s insistence that this would undermine local accountability.

Instead, the Independent Living Fund was closed by the coalition government, and the “self-determination” promised by the introduction of personal budgets had mostly “failed to materialise”.

The current social care system, said Morris, was incapable of delivering the right to independent living set out in article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

What was needed, she said, as proposed by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, was “a national independent living service, funded from general taxation, free at the point of delivery, and delivered locally in co-production with disabled people”.

She also warned of the failure to realise one of the key proposals of Life Chances, for there to be a national network of user-led disabled people’s organisations (DPOs), modelled on centres for independent living.

This, she said, “was never fully realised” and since 2010 many local DPOs had had their funding cut and had “found it increasingly difficult to hold onto existing contracts to provide direct payments support services”.

She added: “Such local organisations are a vital part of any nationally-funded independent living service.”

And she said: “It’s at the local level and amongst disabled people ourselves that we will develop innovative ways to enable people to live ordinary lives.”

14 March 2019

 

 

Flood’s ‘bittersweet’ departure from ‘rock solid’ ALLFIE

A prominent disabled activist has spoken of her “bittersweet” feelings at leaving the organisation that leads the fight for inclusive education after nearly 13 years.

Tara Flood is to leave The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), where she has been director since 2006, for a new post leading strategy on co-production at a pioneering London council.

Her task as strategic head for co-production at Hammersmith and Fulham council will be to implement the recommendations of last year’s ground-breaking report on co-production, which had been commissioned by the London borough.

She will work with fellow disabled activist Kevin Caulfield, chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition against Cuts, who works as a policy and strategy officer at the council.

Flood said she was leaving ALLFIE in a much stronger position than when she had arrived in 2006, when it had just seven months of funding left.

She said: “This organisation is much more confident about what it believes in. We have a much higher profile.

As an organisation, we are rock solid on our principles, even in the face of extreme anti-inclusive rhetoric.

It’s probably our absolute strength that this organisation never shies away from saying the difficult stuff, because it’s the stuff we know that people need to hear and need to understand.”

But she said she was leaving ALLFIE at a time when the environment on inclusive education was “far more hostile” than when she had arrived.

Although the “last knockings of New Labour” had seen the government place a reservation and an interpretive declaration against article 24 – on inclusive education – of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities when it ratified the treaty in 2009, government policy had become far more hostile to inclusive education since 2010, she said.

She said: “From 2010 there has been a deliberate and consistent dismantling of any progress that has been made in this country towards a more inclusive education system.

That has been done publicly, it’s been done with real confidence by a government whose ideology is so opposed to equality and human rights.

They don’t try to dress it up as anything else.”

Although the “burn-out” she felt after years of tackling this “onslaught” led to a sabbatical last year, to Finland and Canada – two countries where there have been attempts to shift away from segregated education – she said that was not the reason she was leaving ALLFIE.

First, she said, she was ready for a new challenge after 13 years. But she also wanted to “finish the job” in Hammersmith and Fulham.

She chaired the Hammersmith and Fulham Disabled People’s Commission that produced last year’s report and co-wrote it with Caulfield.

She said: “Now is the opportunity to realise all of that change that we set out in that report. It’s too good an opportunity to miss.”

The report is wide-ranging, and it concentrates not just on areas such as social care and education that are usually associated with disabled people’s services, but on “everything the council does”.

And it is not just about council services, she said.

One of the report’s recommendations is about building the capacity of the community and supporting disabled people to be co-producers, and about supporting disabled people’s organisations in the borough to work with disabled residents to be ready to co-produce policy decisions and service delivery with the council.

Flood said her new role would be “a challenge”.

She said: “I think we will meet resistance, potentially at every stage. Very few people do not struggle with fundamental change, particularly in sectors where the traditional approach to disabled people has been very, very well-embedded.

But the change is already underway, and I wouldn’t have taken the job if I thought this was just a token gesture.”

One of the tasks she will face, she said, will be in education, where she said she would need to challenge the council to move towards inclusion.

But she has already been encouraged by the co-production role played by disabled people in the planning application to redevelop Hammersmith town hall and the surrounding area.

And she said she was encouraged by the council’s moves away from a focus on personal budgets and towards the adoption of an independent living strategy.

Flood said her thoughts about leaving ALLFIE were “bittersweet”, despite the excitement of her new role, because she felt the tide may finally be turning in the battle against the government’s anti-inclusion policies.

Not only is ALLFIE’s membership increasing, but there has been a string of judicial review cases taken by parents challenging attempts to have their disabled children thrown out of mainstream schools.

In the short-term, ALLFIE is set to make an interim appointment while its trustees choose a permanent replacement for Flood.

She believes ALLFIE will benefit from a fresh approach on income generation from a new director, particularly because it is campaigning for social change in an area opposed by the government, which she said was “a double whammy”.

She is also hopeful about Labour’s new shadow minister responsible for special educational needs, the disabled MP Emma Lewell-Buck, who visited ALLFIE last month for a discussion with Flood.

Flood said: “We were really honest with her about our disappointment about how lacking in detail Labour have been since they recommitted to inclusive education at the party conference last September.

We really hope that with Emma at the helm we will see a new approach to how Labour talk about inclusive education and putting some detail into their policy of a national education service.

It’s a relationship that we have started and we intend to build and she seems to really understand what it is we are trying to do and she is a disabled person herself and has her own story to tell about her own education.”

Flood will also leave as ALLFIE puts the finishing touches to a new version of its manifesto for inclusive education and is planning a private members’ bill that she hopes will act as “a vehicle to build political relationships and support”.

She said the thought of leaving later this month was “awful”.

She said: “I feel ALLFIE is so part of me and I hope that I am part of ALLFIE and I think I am, and I will be really sad to leave, but I think ALLFIE is in a very different, better, stronger place than when I started.

We have an amazing staff team, we are very clear about our vision, we can articulate it with well-evidenced examples, and we are never swayed from our commitment to inclusive education and the ending of segregation, and that’s an amazing achievement in such difficult times.

I hope that as its director I have helped that happen.”

14 March 2019

 

 

Anger over government’s plans for 37 new special schools

Inclusive education campaigners have condemned the government’s announcement that it is funding 37 new special free schools, with segregated institutions for disabled children set to be opened in every part of England.

The announcement by education secretary Damian Hinds means there will be nearly 3,500 more free school places in segregated settings.

There will also be two alternative provision free schools, for children who have been, or are at risk of being, excluded from mainstream education.

Hinds’ announcement comes 18 months after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities was highly critical of the UK government’s record on inclusive education.

When the committee published its “concluding observations” on the progress the UK had made in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in August 2017, it was highly critical of the UK government’s approach, and the “persistence of a dual education system” that segregates increasing numbers of disabled children in special schools.

It called instead for a “coherent strategy” on “increasing and improving inclusive education”, which would include raising awareness of – and support for – inclusive education among parents of disabled children.

But The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said the government had instead continued its ideological drive towards more segregation.

It said it “condemns the government’s mass expansion of segregated education” while at the same time “cutting mainstream school budgets”.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns co-ordinator, said: “This is no longer about austerity and cuts – this government’s ideological drive is towards the dogma of investing in more segregated provision despite its association with poorer educational, employment and emotional outcomes. 

The government continues to ignore the evidence that good mainstream education provision is more likely to produce better outcomes for disabled pupils and that mainstream schools are the first preference of parents. 

The establishment of special schools with poorer outcomes for disabled children is in breach of the government’s obligation to promote disabled children’s human right to inclusive education under UNCRPD article 24, which requires the development of a fully inclusive education system for all.”

Hinds said in a statement: “We want every school to be a school for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

That’s why we are investing significant funding into special education needs units attached to mainstream schools and in additional support so children with education, health and care plans can access mainstream education.

But we recognise some children require more specialist support.

These new special free schools and alternative provision schools will make sure that more complex needs can be provided to help support every child to have a quality education.”

The government’s announcement was welcomed by the Council for Disabled Children (CDC).

Dame Christine Lenehan, CDC’s director, said: “We are pleased to welcome the new wave of special free schools and the extra choice they will bring to the system for children with special educational needs.”

Flood criticised CDC’s support for the government’s announcement.

She said: “We are very, very disappointed about how the CDC have toed the government line over and above the human rights of disabled children and young people to be included in the mainstream.

Of course, when ALLFIE is talking about including in mainstream we do not mean tweaks to the current system.

This is about an education system that reflects the spirit and tone of article 24.

If only CDC had the same values.”

Applications for potential providers will now open in the 39 local authorities that bid successfully for a special or alternative provision school to be opened in their area.

Of the special schools, there will be three in the north-east, six in the north-west, five in Yorkshire and the Humber, one in the East Midlands, four in the West Midlands, four in the east of England, five in London, three in the south-east, and six in the south-west, while the two alternative provision schools will be opened in the West Midlands.

14 March 2019

 

DWP handed petition of 200,000 names on benefit assessment travel

A disabled woman has handed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) a petition of more than 200,000 names in a bid to stop companies forcing claimants to travel long distances to attend face-to-face benefit assessments.

Claudette Lawrence only launched the petition on the 38 Degrees website in November, but by yesterday (Wednesday) it had been signed by more than 213,000 people.

She started the campaign after becoming increasingly concerned about the distances disabled friends were being asked to travel to attend face-to-face assessments with disability assessment contractors Maximus, Atos and Capita.

But she is also concerned about disabled people being charged up to £40 by their GPs to write a letter explaining why they need a home assessment, rather than having to travel to an assessment centre for their eligibility tests for personal independence payment (PIP) or employment and support allowance (ESA).

Lawrence says in her petition: “People who are on benefits due to ill health, cannot afford to pay for private letters.

There is a risk that people who are entitled to PIP or ESA will lose out, causing hardship and suffering.”

Last week, Lawrence and Lorna Greenwood, campaigns manager for 38 Degrees, were at DWP’s headquarters in London to discuss the issues and hand the petition to civil servants and a special adviser to work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd.

Lawrence told Disability News Service (DNS) that a friend of hers from Thamesmead in east London had been asked to attend a work capability assessment in Wembley, on the other side of the capital in north-west London.

Another friend, from Charlton, in south-east London, had been asked to attend an assessment in Southend, on the Essex coast.

Lawrence said: “It’s just not right. The whole process is unfit for purpose.”

She said she had been expecting a strong response to her petition but had been “absolutely shocked” by how many people had signed it.

One of the disabled people who signed the petition said: “I have a long term mental health disorder and I was expected to take a journey with my baby which would involve three buses and two trains.

When I rang to say I couldn’t cope with even walking out of the door, let alone figure out the details of a very expensive journey, they treated me with contempt and rudeness.

They ignored my doctor’s letter. Needless to say they decided in my absence that I was fit for work.

Luckily my local DEA [disability employment adviser] saw the truth and made up for their nastiness.”

Another said: “They make people travel a great distance then say if you can travel this far then you are fine.”

And a third said: “I have had to travel for an assessment be completely unable to move for a week afterwards [and was then] turned down.”

And one said simply: “I was asked to attend an assessment in Milton Keynes and I live in London!”

A DWP spokesperson declined to say what action the department would take in response to the petition.

But she said in a statement: “We want everyone to have a good experience at their PIP or work capability assessment.

Whenever we can we will make benefit decisions using paper evidence so that people don’t need to travel to an assessment.

Anyone we need to see in person who is not able to travel to an assessment centre can request a home assessment.

Wherever possible our assessment providers will use supporting evidence which does not incur a fee to claimants. 

No one is required to travel for more than 90 minutes by public transport to their assessment.”

Five years ago, MPs on the Commons public accounts committee used evidence collected in a lengthy investigation by DNS and the disabled journalist Richard Butchins to accuse Atos of lying in the document it used to win a £184 million contract to provide PIP assessments across London and the south of England.

Atos had won the contract by boasting of its “extensive” network of 16 NHS trusts, two private hospital chains, and four physiotherapy providers, all of which it said would provide sites where the PIP tests would take place.

But in the months after the contract was awarded, all but four of the NHS trusts and both of the private hospital chains dropped out.

Atos had stated in the tender that it had a network of 740 assessment sites across London and the south of England.

But after the contract was signed, it only managed to secure 96 assessment centres, including not a single one covering a vast sweep of north London, and only one in Suffolk and one in Cambridgeshire, although it has since improved these numbers.

14 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:53
Mar 072019
 

Please can we share the below far and wide!

As part of their inquiry into DSS Discrimination, the government’s Work and Pensions Committee has launched a survey aimed at HB claimants who have struggled to access housing in the private rented sector.

The survey consists of some short answer questions on whether claimants have faced difficulty in renting a property because they were in receipt of benefits. Based on the tick boxes selected the survey may then ask follow up questions such as when a claimant faced difficulty due to ‘no DSS polices’, what benefits the claimant was in receipt of and whether the landlord/letting agency explained why they could not rent the property and offered any alternatives.

The survey itself will help inform the oral evidence session on ‘no DSS’ clauses due to take place on 20 March and the inquiry as a whole.

The Committee would be very grateful if you could help promote the survey

Please find the link below.

https://twitter.com/CommonsWorkPen/status/1102956785940525056

 Posted by at 15:48
Mar 072019
 

Reaction to Rudd’s reforms: Tinkering, crumbs and fears of a Trojan horse for cuts

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have raised grave concerns about a series of reforms to the disability benefits assessment system announced by work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd.

Rudd secured broadly positive coverage of her reforms from the mainstream media this week, but disabled campaigners have told Disability News Service (DNS) of their concerns, particularly about her plans to simplify the system.

DPOs and grassroots disabled activists said the plans amounted to “minor tinkering” when the system was instead in need of a radical overhaul.

The most striking announcement by Rudd was that her Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) plans to test if it can assess eligibility for both the extra costs benefit personal independence payment (PIP) and the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA) through a single face-to-face assessment, at least for those disabled people who apply for the two benefits at the same time.

It plans to do this through an “integrated” service, supported by a new digital system, which will deal with both PIP and ESA (and universal credit) assessments, and will begin to go live from 2021.

It hopes this DWP-owned system will allow a greater number of assessment providers than the current three companies – Atos, Capita and Maximus – to come into the market and “compete” to provide assessments.

But the changes will also mean DWP extending the contract of Maximus – the unpopular and discredited provider of work capability assessments (WCAs) – by 17 months to the end of July 2021.

Rudd’s speech was delivered on Tuesday at the offices of the disability charity Scope on the Olympic Park in east London.

A DWP spokesperson later told Disability News Service (DNS) that there were no plans to move to a single set of eligibility criteria across the two benefits – one of the many concerns raised by campaigners – and that the announcement was not a step towards moving to a single disability benefit covering both extra costs and out-of-work payments.

She said the new digital platform would “enable much greater information sharing between the two assessments” and that it would be “rolled out carefully – learning as we go”.

But Catherine Hale, lead researcher and project manager of the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project (CIIP), told DNS: “In theory, the idea of a single digital platform could simplify the claimant experience.

But we’ve seen with universal credit how the idea of an ‘integrated’ digital system has been a Trojan horse for cuts to disability premiums.

We are worried that the proposed integration of PIP and ESA will be a way of further eroding the premiums that recognise the extra costs of long-term unemployment, by stealth.

And we’re concerned that linking PIP eligibility to work capability will take us further away from the principle that PIP is intended to compensate for the financial penalty of disability, which exists both in and out of work.”

Al Morrison, communications and media officer for Inclusion London, who was at the speech, said: “There’s a lot we could say about yesterday’s announcements, but our overwhelming feeling is that these are not solutions.

We feel this is minor tinkering of a system that is completely flawed and needs to be overhauled, with a social model-based approach to assessments.

Until that happens, the benefits system and assessments process will continue to be punitive and hostile.”

She added: “We can’t understand why the contract with Maximus has been extended either.

It’s brutally apparent that this private contractor works for profit and not in the interests of disabled people.”

Last month, it emerged that Maximus appeared to have no written policy on how to protect the safety of people claiming ESA, despite years of evidence linking the WCA with deaths and serious harm.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said that “rolling both assessments together, risking people losing everything in one fell swoop, is a nightmare scenario.

The right way forward would be to end repeated reassessment and bring in lifetime awards for PIP until such time as both totally failing assessments are scrapped and replaced with something fit for purpose.”

Ken Butler, benefits policy advisor for Disability Rights UK (DR UK), was another who called for wholesale reform rather than the minor changes proposed by Rudd.

He said: “Assessments for both ESA and PIP are flawed and poorly administered. The current figures for successful appeals on both benefits make that quite clear. 

You can’t merge two badly constructed processes and expect to come up with one fit-for-purpose approach.

Without a wholesale change of design of the assessment process, huge numbers of disabled people will continue to be denied benefits they are entitled to – that’s the change we need.”

Rosa Morris, who has personal experience of the WCA and last year completed a PhD examining the assessment process and disability benefits, said Rudd had failed to acknowledge that “both assessment processes for PIP and ESA are unfit for purpose and create additional harm.

My personal experience of the WCA and my academic research, added to my current work supporting people with PIP and ESA claims, shows a system which views disabled people’s experiences of their bodies and lives as contentious, is not motivated by wishing to support them, and is instead focused on reducing claimant numbers.

It is currently unclear what any integration of the assessment processes will look like in practice, but there is a real danger of PIP ending up integrated into universal credit, where it could be at risk of conditionality and sanctions and no longer be a universal non-means tested benefit designed to address additional costs and unrelated to employment status.”

Caroline Richardson, a disabled researcher and member of the Spartacus Network of campaigners, said Rudd’s announcement suggested that the two very different benefits “have effectively been merged in the minds of the DWP”.

She said: “I have fought hard to keep the distinction, and that disabled people who are well can work, but sick people who have apparent functionality cannot work, and that the benefits are for different purposes and therefore should have very different testing criteria.

Repeatedly I have heard MPs, media and even disability organisation conflate and confuse the two benefits.

They are separate benefits for separate purposes and should remain that way.”

Jenny Morris, who helped write the Labour government’s Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People white paper, was another to raise fears that ministers could be moving towards merging the two very different benefits.

She said on Twitter that there had been no recognition from Rudd that PIP was an “extra costs benefit” and “nothing to do with ability to work”.

She said: “Are we on a journey to abolishing the whole idea of a benefit which is intended to fund the additional costs associated with impairment and illness?”

Another measure announced by Rudd, which again secured positive coverage in the mainstream media, was that DWP would no longer reassess PIP claimants who have reached the pension age – or at least would only give them a “light touch review” every 10 years – unless they tell the department their needs have changed.

Some campaigning organisations, like DR UK, said the measure showed a more “common sense approach” to assessments.

But Burnip told DNS: “Rudd has thrown a few crumbs to a few pensioners who are possibly WASPI women who have had years of pension entitlement stolen or have a partner under pension age who will lose thousands of pounds through universal credit rules.

This is nothing more than an insult to them.” 

Inclusion London said it could “find no rational explanation for ending frequent re-assessments of only state-pension-age disabled people” and called for an urgent review of the new policy.

Morrison pointed out that Rudd had failed to “properly address a press question asking why this change will not apply to younger disabled people too”.

Stef Benstead, another CIIP researcher and member of the Spartacus Network, said the move was “daft”.

She said: “They’re equating permanent severe illness with being over pension age… using an unreliable proxy for something that could be directly assessed. A bit like PIP itself, really.

They also think they can design a computer system for holding PIP and universal credit/ESA info by 2021, despite the universal credit debacle.”

In a ministerial statement issued before the speech, Rudd also said that ministers were hoping to improve the mandatory reconsideration process – reviews carried out by DWP before benefit claimants can appeal a decision on their claim – to ensure that further evidence was gathered from claimants at this stage and to “make more accurate decisions sooner”.

And she confirmed a previous announcement that DWP would test a new approach that should reduce the conditions – and potential sanctions – imposed on disabled people awaiting a WCA as part of a universal credit claim.

But Philip Connolly, Disability Rights UK’s policy manager, said: “Amber Rudd acknowledged how many disabled people experience her department when she said that for some it was akin to being on trial, but her announcements fell short of the legitimate expectations of disabled people for the wholesale suspension of sanctions or the need for evidence-based descriptors in the WCA.”

Rudd also said she would commission research to examine disabled claimants’ experience of the benefits system and how to meet their needs, and that she wanted to improve DWP’s engagement with “disabled people, disabled people’s organisations, and the charities that support disabled people”.

But Inclusion London said: “We welcome the mention of co-production with disabled people, but we have little evidence that the government is committed to such meaningful engagement.

After the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities made their concluding observations outlining their concerns with disability rights – stating that the government should work with disabled people’s representative organisations – it took 18 months for the minister for disabled people to meet with us.

We know the government has arranged a number of meetings discussing the issues disabled people face where we have been excluded.

They seem intent on engaging with charities, not disabled people’s organisations.”

Hale also welcomed Rudd’s comment on engagement, and said she looked forward to sharing with her CIIP’s forthcoming report based on research into the lived experience of chronic illness, social security and work.

She said: “We especially urge her to consider the needs of people with energy impairment.

Our research participants felt as though the WCA and PIP assessment are deliberately designed not to take account of fatigue and energy impairment and therefore to deny their lived experience of their health condition.

We will be making recommendations for a system that empowers people with energy-limiting chronic illness to live as fully as possible, rather than punishing them as the current system does. It must begin with listening, trust and respect.”

Rudd also announced that she wanted to set a “new and more ambitious goal” than the government’s current target of seeing one million more disabled people in work in the 10 years to 2027.

And she said she wanted to “significantly improve how DWP supports disabled people and those with health conditions”, admitting that some disabled people had told her that they “feel as though they are put on trial for seeking the state’s support”.

She insisted that her DWP colleagues were “in their jobs because they want to help people” and so DWP needed to “do more to close the gap between our intentions and your experiences”.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, was dismissive of the reforms, and said: “Rudd’s announcements today are totally inadequate.

The hostile environment that this government has created for disabled people is set to continue.

These reforms do not address the fundamental flaws in a system that has repeatedly failed ill and disabled people, who continue to face cruel and callous PIP reassessments and an unfit-for-purpose assessment framework.

Labour will scrap PIP and WCA assessments, which have caused unnecessary suffering to so many, and replace them with a system that treats disabled people with dignity and respect.”

Asked how Rudd responded to the claim that the changes would do nothing to address the fundamental flaws in the system, the DWP spokesperson said: “As the secretary of state said yesterday, she is committed to closing the gap between our intentions and disabled people’s experiences, and she will be guided by disabled people as we work together to provide the opportunities and support they deserve and expect.”

7 March 2019

 

 

Professor Mike Oliver: Outpouring of admiration for social model pioneer

The death of the disabled academic who first defined the “social model of disability” has led to an outpouring of admiration, affection and grief from leading figures in the disabled people’s movement.

Their responses highlighted the status of Professor Mike Oliver as one of the movement’s most influential figures.

After hearing of his death this week, many disabled friends and admirers explained on social media how his work had changed their lives.

Dr Sally Witcher, chief executive of Inclusion Scotland, said his book, The Politics of Disablement, had “profoundly” changed her understanding of disability and of herself as a disabled person.

Tracey Proudlock, co-founder of the influential Campaign for Accessible Transport in the early 1990s, said his work had set her on a “personal journey transforming” her own politics.

Tara Flood, director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, said Oliver was “an absolute legend and a pioneer” and added: “His social model of disability thinking along with others of his generation are absolutely responsible for the lightbulb moment in my life.”

Agnes Fletcher, a former director of policy and communications at the Disability Rights Commission, added: “An intellectual giant with shoulders broad enough to set so many of us free.”

And Phil Friend, a former chair of Disability Rights UK, said Oliver was “a colossus and irreplaceable” and would “always be remembered as the one who set us all free”.

Other leading disabled activists and campaigners to recognise his contribution to the disabled people’s movement this week included Professor Peter Beresford, Michelle Daley, Jane Young, Dennis Queen, Liz Carr, Cllr Pam Thomas, Mik Scarlet, and Rhian Davies.

Many first heard the news from the disabled crossbench peer Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who had known Professor Oliver for more than 30 years, and described him as a “dear friend, mentor and all-round genius”.

They wrote a book together, Disability Politics: Understanding Our Past, Changing Our Future, and Baroness Campbell said his legacy was “central to how millions of disabled people now live their lives and see themselves”, as “empowered people with rights” rather than a medical diagnosis.

In an interview with PhD researcher Jonjo Brady, recorded last year for a documentary by the University of Kent’s Matt Wilson, which was shown as part of the university’s Disability History Month event in November, Oliver described how he left grammar school with three O-levels, before working as a clerk in an office for a year, where he discovered “that being at work was even more boring than being at school”.

But after he broke his neck diving into a swimming pool, he spent a year receiving rehabilitation in Stoke Mandeville Hospital’s renowned spinal injuries unit, and was then given a job teaching young offenders.

When a law change meant he could no longer teach without a degree or teaching qualification, he decided to study sociology, the first subject he had encountered that he felt was relevant to his own life.

He studied sociology and social anthropology at the University of Kent in the early 1970s, at a time when it was physically “unwelcoming” to a wheelchair-user, in contrast to the helpful attitude of the staff and fellow students who assisted him daily with the barriers he faced in the “generous times ushered in by the economic and cultural revolutions of the 1960s”.

His life, he said later, was changed by a booklet published in 1976 by the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS), The Fundamental Principles of Disability, which argued that “the root cause of our problems was the way society was organised and the disabling barriers we faced”.

UPIAS – and one of its key members, the father of the social model, Vic Finkelstein – argued that disabled people were oppressed by society, rather than seeing disability as “a personal tragedy”.

This meant, said Oliver, that he “no longer had to accept full responsibility” for his impairment and understood instead that his “personal troubles were also public issues”, an insight that led him to develop the UPIAS principles and define the social model as the key to understanding disabled people’s oppression.

Oliver stayed on after his degree to complete his PhD in Kent, and eventually to teach a masters course for social workers working with disabled people. It is believed to have been the first postgraduate course in what later became known as disability studies.

At the time, he would say later, most writing on disability “was dominated by assumptions that disability was a medical problem and the focus was on illness and impairment”, and any personal focus was on disabled people as “tragic victims”, with the stereotype reinforced in popular culture through the “triumph over tragedy” genre.

He had wanted his masters course instead to challenge the idea that professionals working with disabled people should focus solely on their “personal troubles and not how and why they were linked to public issues”.

He told Brady last year: “I did want to provide an alternative, more optimistic picture, which wasn’t simply about seeing disability as personal tragedy, disabled people as unemployable, and so on, and it was about having an optimistic view of what disabled people could achieve if many of the barriers that they faced were removed.”

Oliver’s first book, Social Work with Disabled People, published in 1983, incorporated this philosophy and introduced the social model of disability to a wider audience, and within five years, he said, “had become the mantra for many disabled people’s organisations and was beginning to make its way into official government documents”.

The book, now in its fourth edition, is still in print.

He also spoke in his interview with Brady about his second book, The Politics of Disablement, which was published in 1990 and brought together sociology and disability and became a key textbook just as disability studies “was about to take off”.

Oliver would later become the first professor of disability studies in the UK, at the University of Greenwich, and he was still, in retirement, emeritus professor of disability studies at the university.

He played a key role in the late 1980s and early 1990s in persuading the government to introduce disability discrimination legislation, partly he said later by pushing for research that was carried out on behalf of the British Council of Disabled People by another pioneering disabled academic, Colin Barnes, which showed the extent of discrimination faced by disabled people in Britain.

Oliver said it was that research by Barnes (now emeritus professor of disability studies at the University of Leeds), and direct action by the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network, that persuaded the government to introduce the first Disability Discrimination Act, which became law in 1995.

But he said the Conservative government “sold disabled people and our aims for that legislation down the river” by making the act ineffective and “almost unenforceable”.

In a statement following his death, the Centre for Disability Studies (CDS) at the University of Leeds described Oliver as “a pioneer of UK disability studies” who “will never be forgotten”, and said his work on the social model “became – and remains – essential for challenging social injustice”.

CDS said his ideas and commentary had helped to shape the “strategies, demands and activities” of the UK disabled people’s movement, while his writings were “highly regarded across the globe and were instrumental in the development of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.

CDS added: “The clarity and accessibility of his writing has led to various arguments, including alternative theories, to emerge within disability studies and across activist networks.

This is to be welcomed as it will further debate and action to address the marginalisation of disabled people.

Yet his materialist account of disability – which explored the relationship between disability and capitalism – will remain significant to current and future research and action.”

His collaboration with disabled activists and disabled people’s organisations, said CDS, transformed disability “from a personal and private trouble to a public issue, one that remains a matter of social justice.

His extensive publications, which include journal articles, books, and keynote speeches, has challenged all of us to consider how disabled people’s historical and contemporary experiences are captured, articulated and used as a way to bring about emancipation.”

In recent years, Oliver emerged occasionally from retirement, either to campaign locally in Kent, where he still lived, or to deliver powerful speeches that were heavily critical of both the government and the large charities that claimed to speak for disabled people.

Last summer, Disability News Service (DNS) reported on his campaigning work in Kent to expose the failings in the company responsible for the NHS wheelchair services contract in the county.

He had been a user of wheelchair services in Kent for more than 50 years, and said he believed the service was worse than it had ever been throughout that time.

Allen Jones, honorary chair of Wheelchair Users Group for South and East Kent (WUG), knew Oliver for nearly 30 years and said it was thanks to his “tireless campaigning and badgering” that they had made progress in persuading the authorities to listen to their concerns.

He told DNS: “Hopefully it will be part of his legacy that we will have a wheelchair service in Kent that is fit for purpose.”

He added: “For disabled people he will be a massive loss, especially for those of us in Kent who knew him.”

They became friends when Jones was chair of Centre for Independent Living Kent (CILK), and Oliver helped them put together a successful lottery bid for a mobile centre for independent living.

Jones said: “He had a wonderful, dry sense of humour. He was always there as a friend and a campaigner when we needed it.”

He said Oliver had been “passionate” about the social model “right until the last”, delivering a five-minute summary in one of the meetings with the company that delivers the wheelchair services contract.

He said: “That was the essence of Mike: he would help anybody, but he wouldn’t mince his words. He would tell it how it is.

Unless you challenge and deal with it, it will never improve. That was his philosophy. He would never take no for an answer.

Hopefully the legacy of the social model and his campaigning and his advocacy will live on and hopefully many more disabled people will trawl the archives and find the papers he has written and take it up and hopefully we will get a new generation of campaigners.”

In 2013, Oliver had spoken in public about disability for the first time in 10 years, warning disabled people to beware of the “fakes” and “so-called friends” who tried to jump on the independent living “bandwagon”.

In a speech to mark the launch of UK Disability History Month, he said disabled people should never “forget where we came from” and should remember that “we were the ones who escaped from our isolation and segregation, whether we were in homes or our families”.

Describing some of the lessons from history that disabled people must learn in their continuing struggle for independence, he said they should remember that independent living did not mean “living on our own” or “doing everything for ourselves” but was about “having choice and control in our lives” and “autonomy and self-determination”.

And he warned them to beware of “the fakes who seek to jump on the independent living bandwagon”, such as the big charities who “claim to promote and support independent living and yet continue to run residential homes and even export the residential model to other parts of the world”.

Four years later, in another speech to mark Disability History Month, this time at the University of Kent, he said that many of the big charities were “parasitic on the lives of disabled people, and their attempts to reposition themselves as defenders of disability rights are an attempt to disguise this”.

He also warned that the government had positioned disabled people as “pathetic victims”, allowing ministers to launch “a massive attack on services and benefits for disabled people” while claiming that their “relentless assault on the living standards of disabled people is nothing of the kind but a heartfelt attempt to take public money away from scroungers and fraudsters and give it to the most severely disabled people who really need it”.

He concluded that disabled people needed to take responsibility themselves for “attacking the disabling barriers we face”, arguing: “What disability history teaches us is that we cannot rely on the bleeding hearts brigade and parasite people to do it for us.

We have to do it for ourselves. We have to insist that our personal troubles are public issues that need to be resolved.”

7 March 2019

 

 

Disabled DWP employee ‘attempted suicide over culture of workplace bullying’

A disabled employee of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says he attempted to take his own life and experienced life-threatening physical health complications because of a culture of workplace bullying and discrimination.

Paul* spoke out about his own experiences after reading a Disability News Service (DNS) report describing how DWP repeatedly failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people who were recruited into its Community Partners scheme.

His account of his own experiences working in a separate part of DWP adds to mounting evidence of disability discrimination within the department.

Only last week, DNS reported how the proportion of DWP staff who say they have been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months has risen by about 50 per cent in just four years, according to Civil Service figures.

There was also a rise of more than 10 per cent in just 12 months in the number of DWP staff saying they had personally experienced disability discrimination at work, from 1,462 in 2017 to 1,612 in 2018.

These statistics, combined with other Civil Service figures, suggest that more than a third of disabled DWP staff experienced disability discrimination at work in 2018.

The latest evidence of discrimination within the government department responsible for the much-criticised Disability Confident programme also further strains the scheme’s credibility.

DWP itself has secured the status of Disability Confident Leader, the highest of three levels within the scheme, which aims to work with employers to “challenge attitudes towards disability” and “ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations”.

Paul attempted suicide as a result of the abuse and discrimination he experienced, while the increased stress levels led to significant, lasting and potentially fatal health complications.

He said he was still waiting for all the reasonable adjustments he needed to do his job, more than 18 months after he requested them.

He said he had received phone calls from fellow disabled employees who were in tears because of the failure of the department to make the reasonable adjustments they needed to do their job.

Paul said that when he and others pass on concerns about the impact of bullying and harassment on their mental health, they are told to take anti-depressants or seek counselling, while the staff and managers responsible are moved to other departments or rewarded with promotions.

His experiences with DWP have had, he said, “a devastating effect on my career prospects, a devastating effect on my potential earnings, and a devastating effect on my potential life expectancy and ability to live on my own”.

He added: “In fact, this has had a devastating effect on my life.”

DWP’s widespread failings call into question its fitness to judge disabled people’s eligibility for benefits, he added.

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

The department has a duty of care to its colleagues and aims to lead by example as a Disability Confident employer, following best practice in recruiting, retaining and developing disabled staff.

This includes making workplace adjustments for staff who require them and providing a dedicated team to deliver this.

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

She said DWP takes “active steps” to promote equality, and that more than 10,500 employers have signed up to Disability Confident, while the department was modernising its recruitment practices to make them “fairer and more inclusive”.

She added: “Should any individual feel they or their circumstances have not been treated with respect; believe they have been treated unfairly; or not in line with our inclusive principles, our policies and procedures provide a route for escalation so it can be considered and addressed.”

*Not his real name. DNS has disguised his occupation within DWP and has not provided full details of the health problems caused by the discrimination he has experienced to avoid identifying him

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

7 March 2019

 

 

Job losses at Disability Rights UK as user-led funding squeeze tightens

A national disabled people’s organisation has had to make cuts of nearly 20 per cent to its staff, in a further sign of the financial difficulties facing many user-led organisations across the country.

Disability Rights UK (DR UK) is making four of its 22 posts* redundant, although as two of the posts are vacant it will be losing two members of staff.

DR UK told Disability News Service yesterday (Wednesday) that it was set for an annual deficit of about £165,000 for 2018-19 against a backdrop of “particularly fierce” competition for funding.

DR UK’s chief executive, Kamran Mallick, said the charity was “facing bigger challenges than we had hoped” but that “the future of the organisation is not at risk”.

He said: “We planned for a small deficit but like many voluntary organisations, we are feeling the impact of a shortage of statutory and public sector funding and grants.”

He said DR UK had not generated as much income from activities such as training and consultancy as it had hoped, and would now be focusing more on its research, policy and campaigning work.

Mallick said: “This restructure will help us get on a sound financial footing and focus more on our research, policy and campaigning work.

This is all supported by plans for generating income.”

Last month, leading disability networks warned that user-led organisations were continuing to close across the country, with the sector even facing a “real threat of extinction”.

The news of the redundancies comes only two years after Mallick’s predecessor as chief executive, Liz Sayce, said DR UK was in a “sustainable financial position”, and was expecting to report a financial surplus, following past concerns about the charity’s pensions deficit.

That deficit arose unexpectedly following fluctuations in the financial markets, as a result of a final salary pension scheme which had been closed to new members years previously by RADAR, one of the three disability organisations that merged to form DR UK.

In 2014, DR UK staved off the threat of closure after reaching an agreement with the Pension Protection Fund to take over its defined benefits pension scheme, after developing an unsustainable pensions deficit of more than £3 million.

Mallick said he and colleagues had been working to make DR UK “more efficient” and trying to increase income, while it had halved its office rental costs by moving last January from Shoreditch to the Olympic Park in east London and had made savings by changing its IT and auditing service-providers.

He said: “We hope and expect the changes we have made will solve the immediate financial problems and put us on the path to surplus budgets for the year 2020-21.”

*Last year’s accounts showed an average of 22.2 full-time equivalent staff in 2017-18

7 March 2019

 

 

Inquiry to examine discrimination in legal system, and possible miscarriages of justice

Autistic rights campaigners have welcomed a new inquiry into the discrimination faced by disabled people in the criminal justice system.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) inquiry, which will cover England, Scotland and Wales, will look at whether the barriers in the system are exposing disabled people to potential miscarriages of justice.

It will focus on autistic and other neurodivergent people, people with learning difficulties and those with mental health conditions, concentrating on their experiences after they have been charged with a criminal offence and before they reach trial.

The inquiry will examine whether their needs are properly identified and if they receive the adjustments they need to allow them to understand the charges and the legal process and to participate “effectively and as fully as possible”.

Adjustments can include the use of intermediaries, allowing extra time and breaks, and providing accessible information.

The EHRC inquiry will also look at how modernisation of the court system, such as the use of video-link hearings and online processes, is affecting disabled defendants and accused (the Scottish criminal justice system uses the term “accused” instead of defendants).

And it will examine the legal duties of the government, public sector bodies and the judiciary to make adjustments under the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The inquiry was welcomed by Autistic UK, which is run by and for autistic people.

Kat Humble, Autistic UK’s communications officer, said: “Autistic UK welcome this investigation, as we have heard far too many stories from people going through the justice system unsupported and misunderstood.

There is little wonder that so many in the autistic community mistrust the justice system when they so often end up victims of miscommunication and overwhelming environments through lack of adequate support.

The time between a charge and a trial is fraught with panic and overwhelming decisions.

It is critical at this juncture to ensure that the person charged understands what is happening, understands any decisions made about them, and has the information to make any decisions they need to make for themselves.

Appropriate advocacy is imperative to ensure smooth communication, along with such reasonable adjustments such as a low stimulation environment and time allowed for the person to process all information.” 

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “The launch of this inquiry shows the level of concern of the treatment of disabled people by our criminal justice system.

It is disgraceful that some of the most marginalised in society are denied support and face miscarriages of justice.

Disabled people deserve a process in which they are able to fully participate. Labour will create a justice system that treats disabled people equally and fairly.”

David Isaac, EHRC’s chair, said: “The criminal justice system is complex and people with impairments such as autism and mental health conditions can find it especially difficult to navigate their way through the system.

It is essential that criminal justice works fairly for everyone and that anyone accused of a crime is not disadvantaged by virtue of having an impairment. 

Technology can often assist and empower disabled people, but we must also ensure it is used appropriately and doesn’t inadvertently end up isolating disabled people or jeopardising their ability to participate in person.

If disabled people’s needs aren’t properly identified from the outset they are at risk of not understanding the charges they face, the advice they receive or the legal process. 

In some cases, this can mean disabled people could be wrongly convicted or receive inappropriate sentences.”

7 March 2019

 

 

Jodey Whiting: DWP apologises, but no word on preventing future deaths

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has apologised for a series of failings made in the weeks leading to the death of a disabled mother-of-nine, but it has failed to explain how it will prevent further tragedies in the future.

A senior civil servant has written to the mother of Jodey Whiting, who took her own life in February 2017, 15 days after her out-of-work disability benefits were stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA).

Emma Haddad, DWP’s director of working age benefits, apologised in the letter both for safeguarding errors made by the department in the weeks before her death, and failings that took place afterwards.

But there was nothing in Haddad’s letter to suggest how DWP will prevent further deaths, despite years of evidence of the institutional failure of DWP to guarantee the safety of disabled people – and particularly those with a history of mental distress – within the “fitness for work” system.

Haddad’s letter was written following the completion of a report by the Independent Case Examiner (ICE), which concluded that DWP had been guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case, and that it had failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to Whiting’s suicide.

Haddad told Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, that when her daughter failed to attend her WCA appointment DWP “should have attempted further contact with Jodey before closing her claim”.

She added: “We do have guidelines in place to try and safeguard customers and regrettably our procedures were not followed.”

Haddad also apologised for failing to update the department’s IT systems following her death and for sending “unnecessary” letters and phone calls after being notified that she had died, which she said was “clearly unacceptable”.

She also apologised for DWP failing to respond to letters sent by Whiting and those acting on her behalf, and for failing to carry out a full investigation until Dove contacted ICE with a complaint.

Haddad said the department’s customer service standards were “clearly not achieved”.

Dove told DNS: “When I read the letter it upset me, thinking, ‘Yes, my daughter could have been alive if they have done everything they should have done.’”

And she said the letter failed to explain how DWP would prevent further deaths.

Asked why Haddad had not stated what measures the department would take to prevent further deaths, a DWP spokesperson said the department was “reviewing our procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again”, but she declined to comment further.

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

7 March 2019

 

 

Equality Act does not apply abroad, says British Council, after sacking disabled teacher

The government-funded body that promotes the UK’s culture and education abroad has sacked a disabled teacher, despite its own internal investigation concluding that it failed to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed to do her job.

The British Council, which proclaims itself a Disability Confident employer – under the discredited employment scheme run by the Department for Work and Pensions – was able to dodge its Equality Act duties by arguing that the legislation does not apply because Emily Frisby worked in Morocco and so was subject to local employment law.

Internal investigations upheld her complaint about the failure of managers to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed and even concluded that “management may have crossed a red line in terms of intimidation/bullying” of Frisby.

But although the British Council then agreed to provide the adjustments she needed, managers repeatedly refused to provide details of the provisions they would make, she said, and ignored her emails asking for clarification.

She had experienced months of disability discrimination at the hands of British Council managers after transferring to Morocco from Vietnam in 2017.

She was denied the reduced hours she had in her previous British Council job, which worsened her health condition, and was forced to take a “protracted and dehumanising” grievance procedure because of the refusal to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed.

Her condition affects her hearing and balance, and symptoms include vertigo, hearing loss and tinnitus, all of which can be triggered by stress.

But when she tried to secure the reasonable adjustments she needed, managers refused to provide them and instead questioned her impairment, and, she said, bullied and harassed her.

As a result of her treatment, she was signed off work with stress and anxiety and an exacerbation of the symptoms of her condition.

She was forced to drop a legal claim for discrimination because the British Council argued that the Equality Act does not apply to its actions in Morocco, even though it is a UK charity, receives funding from the UK government, is sponsored by the Foreign Office, and has signed up to Disability Confident.

Now the British Council has given Frisby three months’ notice under the “Moroccan labor code”, blaming her for her failure to return to work and telling her they are treating this as a resignation, even though her GP and an occupational therapist advised her to make sure the adjustments were in place before she returned to work.

She has been off sick for more than a year and received sick pay only until August. She has not been paid since.

She said: “I haven’t had any indication of how the adjustments would work in practice… despite repeatedly asking for and obviously needing confirmation and clarification.

My GP and occupational health advised to have the adjustments in place before I returned to work to avoid further stress and delays and it seemed sensible considering it would be impossible for me to return to work without any discussion or knowledge of my working hours and classes.

All I wanted was to reduce or change my timetable and have a level of support and understanding about my health condition.”

She added: “My emails and sick notes are often ignored entirely, or they just repeat that adjustments will be made on my return to work, ignoring the other questions and concerns.

It’s hard not to see this as part of the same hostile environment for disabled people coming from the UK government, and as retaliation for speaking out and complaining.”

The British Council argues that it does not need to comply with the Equality Act because Frisby was employed in Morocco and was subject to local employment law. 

It also says that “the spirit” of the Equality Act is captured in its “equality policy, values and behaviours”, which apply to all staff globally. 

A British Council spokesperson refused to say whether it would provide Frisby with an apology and compensation for the treatment she has received.

She also failed to say why the British Council could not go beyond Moroccan law and treat disabled people as fairly as they would be treated in the UK, and she refused to say if the British Council believed it could continue as a Disability Confident Employer in the light of her treatment.

But the spokesperson said in a statement: “Our own internal investigation into this found that we didn’t handle some aspects of the adjustments required very well. 

Although the changes were later put in as requested, we are sorry for the upset this situation caused.

We had successfully made adjustments for Ms Frisby in a previous role, in a different country. 

We have now shared how we handled these requests with our Disability Facilitators –specially trained staff in global teams – so they can help assist employees and managers in these situations.

As an organisation, we fully recognise that people with disabilities face discrimination and barriers, and we are committed to identifying and removing those barriers so we can improve our practice.”

7 March 2019

 

 

Some claims that London 2012 changed the world are nonsense, says disabled peer

One of Britain’s greatest Paralympians has told a parliamentary meeting to beware of claims that London 2012 “changed the world” for disabled people.

Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson was speaking at a parliamentary meeting held to discuss the need for more to be done to enable disabled people to take part in physical activity.

The retired Paralympian – she won 11 Paralympic golds as a wheelchair athlete – and now crossbench peer said that some of the often-repeated claims that “2012 changed the world” were “nonsense”.

She told the meeting of the all-party parliamentary group for disability that London 2012 “did lots of incredible things for the Olympics and Paralympics, but it didn’t change disability hate crime, which is on the rise, especially against children, and it didn’t change many disabled people’s opportunity to be physically active.

It gave lots of young people aspirations and some people definitely came to activity because of it, but it hasn’t changed the entire world in terms of what we do.”

Baroness Grey-Thompson, who was speaking as both a crossbench peer and chair of ukactive, which promotes physical activity and represents large parts of the fitness and leisure industry, said the Paralympics were “great if you’re talented and want to spend all your life training and make it to the highest levels of sport”.

But she said that disabled people also need “the same opportunity to be fit and healthy” as non-disabled people and to just be “rubbish at sport”.

She said: “It’s not all about sport, it’s about physical activity and unless we make some changes we are not going to be giving those people the opportunity.”

She said physical activity “can make a huge difference to disabled people’s lives”.

She added: “Inactivity is really common for disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, and this is the scary bit: disabled people are twice as likely to be inactive as non-disabled people.

Unless we open doors and make things accessible and get governing bodies to think differently, and get everybody to think differently, and we get school sport to be genuinely open and inclusive, we are not going to bring about some of those changes.”

She told the meeting that families had written to her to tell her that their disabled children had been excluded from physical education at school for “all sorts of reasons” including “health and safety”.

Mike Diaper, director of children, young people and tackling inactivity for Sport England, said his organisation had invested £12 million in targeted funding to help promote physical activity for disabled people.

One of the charities it is working with is the disabled people’s organisation Disability Rights UK through the Get Yourself Active scheme, which brings together health, sport and social care, and helps disabled people use their personal budgets to take part in physical activity.

He said: “The learning that is coming out of that is the gulf between what youngsters want to do in terms of getting active and the knowledge of their social workers.”

Huw Edwards, public affairs and research director for ukactive, said his organisation worked with more than 4,000 members across the UK, with most of them from the fitness and leisure sector, but he admitted that the sector’s efforts to enable disabled people to engage in physical activity were “a work in progress” although it had “great ambition”.

He said they had access to data on more than 500 million visits to local authority leisure centres in the last five years, but there was no information on the involvement of disabled people in those trips.

Disabled people attending the meeting also raised their concerns about the barriers to accessing physical activity.

Chris Jeffery, chair of Mending the Gap, told the meeting that more should be done to improve the disability equality training of staff in gyms and leisure centres.

And Phil Shoebridge, chair of Centre of Excellence for Disability Archery in Kent, said it was becoming increasingly difficult for members of grassroots disability sports organisations to afford to hire venues run by schools and local authorities because they were so intent on maximising revenue.

7 March 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:45
Mar 052019
 
I am a freelance journalist working for Community Care, the online social work news site. 
 
I would like to speak to people who use social care services in England and have assessed eligible needs under the Care Act 2014 for support to access facilities in their local community and/or make friends and other relationships, to discuss how well they feel these needs are being met by local authorities. I am also looking to speak to people who have experienced a cut to their care package, which has left them unable to access their local community, take part in social activities or caused them to become socially isolated. 
 
The interviews will be used as case studies in an investigation I am working on into this type of support. You can read more about the research here: 
 
I may be able to travel to meet people in person or alternatively I can speak on the phone. Interviewees will be given a fake name in the final article to protect their identity. 
 
I can be contacted on rachel.carter@live.co.uk – hope to hear from you soon. 
 Posted by at 23:08
Mar 032019
 

Banner reading: No More Deaths on Our Streets

Friday, 15 March 2019 from 18:00-21:00, 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AT

Facebook Event Page

Hundreds of people have died homeless across the UK in the last year. Every single one is a death too many.

At least one person dies every day due to the very avoidable condition of a lack of suitable shelter, while swathes of luxurious buildings lie empty & unused..

This cannot continue! Enough is enough!

Join us to commemorate and honour those that have died and to fight back against swinging cuts to services leaving people vulnerable and the creeping criminalisation of those experiencing homelessness.

We will be meeting outside 10 Downing Street on 15 March at 6pm

This can be done anywhere & everywhere so the more cities together the better ♥

Bring your candles, banners, placards, names of those that have died. Let’s come together and demand NO MORE DEATHS ON OUR STREETS!

There ARE simple solutions.

Please spread the word and bring your friends and family.
If you are part of a group/union/anything please add your name to our call to action..
#NoMoreDeathsOnOurStreets

Supported by:

 Posted by at 15:48
Feb 282019
 

Discrimination faced by disabled DWP staff leaps by half in four years

The proportion of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff who say they have been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months has risen by about 50 per cent in just four years, Civil Service figures have revealed.

The annual Civil Service People Survey shows the number of DWP staff saying they had personally experienced disability discrimination at work in the past 12 months rose by 150 (more than 10 per cent), from 1,462 in 2017 to 1,612 in 2018.

And the proportion of all DWP staff reporting disability discrimination rose by about 12 per cent, from about 2.55 per cent of all employees in 2017 to about 2.85 per cent in the 2018 survey.

This was an increase of about 50 per cent since the 2014 survey, when 1.91 per cent of those responding to the survey said they had experienced disability discrimination at work in the previous year.

But the figures are even more striking when compared with the number of disabled staff employed by DWP.

The latest Civil Service figures, from November 2018, show that only 7.7 per cent of DWP employees declared that they were disabled.

This suggests, according to calculations by Disability News Service (DNS) – which DWP has failed to comment on – that more than a third of disabled DWP staff experienced disability discrimination at work in 2018.

The proportion of DWP employees who have experienced any kind of discrimination has also continued to increase in the last four years, from 11 per cent in 2014 to 14 per cent in 2018.

It is just the latest evidence of worsening levels of discrimination within the government department responsible for the much-criticised Disability Confident scheme and will further strain the scheme’s credibility.

DWP itself has been awarded the status of Disability Confident Leader, the highest of three levels within the scheme, which aims to work with employers to “challenge attitudes towards disability” and “ensure that disabled people have the opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations”.

Last week, DNS reported how DWP repeatedly failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people who were recruited to build bridges between jobcentres and the local community through its Community Partners scheme.

In November, the department admitted failing to keep track of how many complaints by staff through its internal grievance system were based on allegations of disability discrimination.

Earlier the same month, new research showed that the Employment Tribunal had dealt with almost 60 claims of disability discrimination taken against DWP by its own staff over a 20-month period.

And last summer, figures provided to the work and pensions select committee by Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, showed that nearly 7,000 employers that had signed up to Disability Confident had promised to provide just 4,500 new jobs for disabled people between them, an average of less than one per employer.

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

But David Gillon, a prominent disabled critic of the Disability Confident scheme, said: “If DWP can’t even tackle a rapidly increasing disability discrimination problem, never mind resolve it, then how can they justify retaining their Disability Confident Leader status, and their leadership of the entire Disability Confident programme?”

He said that a total of 1,612 incidents of disability discrimination was more than six per working day.

He said: “A core responsibility of a Disability Confident Leader is being an example to others, and teaching lessons learned across the Disability Confident community.

There is precisely zero evidence of DWP doing this, or even acknowledging that they have a problem, so the justification for their retaining Disability Confident Leader status appears absent.

In fact, their failure to acknowledge the issue argues strongly for the removal of their Leader status.”

He said it was “particularly disturbing” that the number of incidents of disability discrimination reported “far exceeds” those in areas such as ethnicity and sexual orientation, which was “the reverse of the pattern seen for harassment in the general population from police and Crown Prosecution Service figures”.

He added: “This strongly suggests that the issue may be a cultural one related to views of disability within DWP or the Civil Service as a whole.”

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if Newton was concerned about the figures, why DWP thought the figures had risen so sharply over the last few years, and why it thought there had been another year-on-year increase in 2018.

She also refused to say if Newton thought the figures suggested complacency by ministers about discrimination, whether they suggested DWP was institutionally disablist, and whether DWP should still be able to call itself a Disability Confident Leader.

But she said in a statement: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring all colleagues, including those with disabilities or health conditions, get the support they need to thrive.

The department has a duty of care to its colleagues and aims to lead by example as a Disability Confident employer, following best practice in recruiting, retaining and developing disabled staff.

We take very seriously any reports of disability discrimination from colleagues, while taking active steps to promote equality.”

28 February 2019

 

 

DWP failed for years to meet legal duties on accessible information, says judge

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failed for years to comply with its legal duties under the Equality Act by refusing to provide an accessible way for many disabled people to communicate with its staff about their benefits, a judge has ruled.

Judge Jeremy Johnson said in a high court ruling that DWP’s “systemic” failings pre-dated the Equality Act, which became law in 2010, and meant that some disabled people had been deprived of “essential” benefits.

His written judgment also revealed that DWP admitted that its creaking IT systems that deal with employment and support allowance (ESA) claims were not fit for purpose but that it was not worth spending £750,000 updating them because of the continuing roll out of universal credit, which has a new IT system.

Several disability organisations had provided evidence to the high court of DWP’s continuing refusal to allow disabled people to communicate via email about their benefit claims, even though they needed to do so for access reasons.

It is just the latest case to raise serious concerns over whether DWP is fit for purpose as a government department.

Last month, DWP admitted it had been forced to launch its seventh costly trawl through the records of disabled people unfairly deprived of benefits, following years of serious errors by senior civil servants.

And last week, an independent investigation found DWP failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to the suicide of a disabled woman with a long history of mental distress.

The latest court case was brought by Paul Atherton, a homeless disabled man from London who is going through the transition process from incapacity benefit to ESA.

He had argued that DWP had refused to provide an accessible way for him to communicate about his benefits by email.

He had represented himself in court, with the help of reasonable adjustments arranged by the judge.

Atherton argued that DWP had breached its public sector equality duty and its duty to make reasonable adjustments, both under the Equality Act.

The judge dismissed his judicial review claim, finding that DWP had satisfied its duties under the Equality Act, but only because it eventually introduced a new way for Atherton to communicate with the department after he had lodged his legal claim.

DWP had previously refused to communicate with Atherton by email – something he said was essential, as he had no home address – arguing that it was unsafe to do so for data protection reasons.

His fluctuating health condition means he does not know from week to week if he will be in hospital, staying with friends, or elsewhere, does not use a telephone, and is not always well enough to travel to collect mail from a jobcentre.

He first claimed disability living allowance (DLA) and incapacity benefit in 2001 but is currently not receiving either because of his health-related failure to attend face-to-face assessments, although he says DWP has backed down and agreed to reinstate his DLA.

Until 2014 he was allowed to communicate with DWP via email, but that system broke down in 2016 when DWP refused to send “confidential information” via email.

After he began legal proceedings, DWP agreed to allow Atherton’s correspondence to be dealt with through a “workaround” system similar to one which is currently offered to about 3,700 other disabled benefit claimants.

Under this system, DWP changes the home address of claimants needing reasonable adjustments to that of a central “alternative formats” team, and posts letters to that team, which then converts the correspondence into an accessible format and sends it on to the claimant.

The latest figures show that only 32 of the 3,700 disabled claimants have requested correspondence via email.

Because claimants’ addresses are stored in a cross-government database, letters sent by other government departments and local authorities are often swept up in the system and have to be returned to those organisations to be reposted.

Atherton rejected the plan because he believed there was “a significant margin for oversight or error” and it would not allow him to exchange emails with a named DWP contact.

He provided witness statements from six other disabled people who had had problems persuading DWP to communicate with them by email.

Evidence of problems was also provided by Inclusion London, RNIB and the National Deaf Children’s Society.

Inclusion London said its research showed that “those who ask for email communication are discouraged by the frontline staff”, while RNIB said DWP “only appears to be prepared to take on board these comments and take action when they are accompanied by the threat of litigation and even then the process is extremely slow”.

DWP told the court that its “current security policy has to be placed in the context of a world where cyber-crime and data theft are rising at an exponential rate and keeping one’s data safe and secure is becoming ever more difficult”.

But it accepted that the understanding of frontline staff about its obligation to allow communication via email as a reasonable adjustment “has not always been consistent throughout the UK”.

DWP told the court that the alternative formats workaround was necessary because some of its IT systems were more than 20 years old and “run on code written in obsolete computer languages”.

It has estimated that it would cost up to £750,000 to carry out the work necessary to allow ESA claimants to receive communications directly in alternative formats such as Braille, large print or email.

Judge Johnson said DWP had failed for years to comply with its duties under the Disability Discrimination Act and then the Equality Act.

And he said that those with difficulty communicating by post “were, in many instances, unable to secure a satisfactory means of communication with the DWP”, which meant that some went without essential benefits.

But he concluded that DWP had now provided a reasonable adjustment to Atherton and complied with its public sector equality duty, although it was “understandable” that he “should continue to be sceptical about the DWP’s commitment to ensuring compliance with its statutory duties” and that this scepticism “may prove to be well-founded”.

Although dismissing his claim for judicial review, he also suggested that DWP could still be breaching the public sector equality duty for other claimants, by failing to “appropriately signpost” them to its alternative formats team.

Atherton told Disability News Service: “Whilst the judicial review wasn’t upheld by the judge it’s clear he wanted to lean in my favour.

The DWP won on a technicality but there can be no doubt whatsoever that they lost on moral, justice and decency grounds.

I was elated that the judge acknowledged the department’s failures and horrendous attitude to disabled claimants.”

He said he hoped DWP would now “finally make amends”, although its track record was “not good”.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to continually improving the delivery of services for customers with specific communication needs while ensuring that we’re handling people’s data sensitively.

That’s why we have improved guidance and training for DWP teams who offer reasonable adjustments and alternative formats to people who need assistance to access our services and information.

The provision of email as a reasonable adjustment is available for all benefits on request and without exception.”

28 February 2019

 

 

Government is failing on disabled women’s rights, UN is told

Activists have told a UN committee how the UK government is failing to address the significant barriers and human rights violations faced by disabled women in accessing social security, justice, jobs and health services.

Eleanor Lisney and Rachel O’Brien, from the disabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida, were among UK women’s rights campaigners in Geneva this week to brief a UN committee of women’s rights experts.

The committee was examining the UK on its progress in implementing the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

It is just the latest in a series of examinations of the UK’s record on disabled people’s rights by UN human rights bodies.

Last November, the UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, said the UK government had inflicted “great misery” on disabled people and other marginalised groups, with ministers in a state of “denial” about the impact of their policies.

The previous year, the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities told the UK government to make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.

And in 2016, the same committee said the UK government was guilty of “grave and systematic violations” of three key sections of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, most of them caused by ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions.

In a briefing passed to the CEDAW committee – jointly prepared with Women Enabled International (WEI) – Sisters of Frida said research showed that about a quarter of disabled women had missed a meal in the last year because they could not afford it, while social security reforms had “disproportionately impacted” disabled women.

In 2017, more than a third of disabled women earned less than the national living wage, the briefing added.

Sisters of Frida also said that disabled women in the UK experience violence at higher rates than other women, because of both discrimination and economic disempowerment.

Nearly one in every two disabled women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, compared with about one in four of all women, while domestic violence shelters and services for victims of violence remain inaccessible for disabled women.

Disabled women also face significant barriers in accessing justice, with cases of sexual violence significantly less likely to be referred by police for prosecution if the victim is a disabled woman, while laws and policies addressing violence against women “routinely fail to include disabled women”.

Sisters of Frida – which received funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to attend the examination of the UK government in Geneva – also warned the committee that disabled women faced increased barriers to accessing healthcare, particularly maternal health services.

The committee was told that disabled women report “significant barriers” in accessing “continuity of care during the prenatal period, a lack of control during labour and delivery, and inadequate postnatal care”.

Following the briefings by campaigners, including Lisney and O’Brien, the committee questioned UK government representatives about its implementation of CEDAW.

Among the issues raised by the committee were the low employment rate for disabled women, the impact of universal credit on women, the failure to include disabled women in sex education and the barriers faced by disabled women who experience domestic violence.

O’Brien, disabled students’ officer for the National Union of Students but in Geneva representing Sisters of Frida, said afterwards: “Some of the issues we raised were about welfare reform and how that relates to domestic abuse, and the lack of access to justice for disabled women in the light of legal aid cuts, especially regarding benefit tribunals.”

She said the government’s response to the committee’s questions had been “poor, especially regarding the impact of universal credit on women and disabled people”.

She said she hoped this would be reflected in the committee’s report.

EHRC had also submitted a report to the CEDAW committee, with recommendations for the UK and Welsh governments.

Its report raised concerns about the impact of the UK government’s legal aid cuts and reforms on disabled women; called for action to close the disability pay gap; and called on the UK government to assess the impact of its benefits sanctions regime on groups including disabled people.

It raised concerns about mental health services in prisons; the possibility of the government’s community sentence pilot leading to compulsory treatment for women with mental health conditions; and access to healthcare for disabled asylum-seekers.

It also called for action to eradicate the use of physical and chemical restraint in mental health settings, pointing out that “girls are more likely to be physically restrained than boys, and women are more likely to be repeatedly restrained than men, including in a face-down position”.

It said 32 women have died after a restraint episode over the last five years after being detained under the Mental Health Act.

EHRC also called on the UK government to implement section 106 of the Equality Act, which would force political parties to publish data showing how many of their parliamentary candidates are disabled people.

It also wants there to be work with political parties and other organisations “to improve the reliability of support available to disabled women candidates, and legislation to exempt costs arising from disabled candidates’ impairments from statutory limits on campaign expenditure”.

In her opening statement to the CEDAW committee, the head of the UK delegation, Elysia McCaffrey, the deputy head of the Government Equalities Office, stressed the UK’s commitment to “advancing gender equality” and said the UK government planned to use the power of #MeToo and other campaigns to “strengthen” its compliance with the convention.

She said the government’s strategy on gender equality and economic empowerment, which will be published this spring, would “seek to do more for low paid and financially fragile women, and women facing multiple barriers or with complex needs”.

But she mentioned disabled women only once in her speech of more than 3,700 words, and that related to workplace equality funding introduced by the Scottish government.

28 February 2019

 

 

Concerns over growing number of ‘dangerous and discriminatory’ road layouts

Increasing numbers of local authorities are breaching the Equality Act by designing “dangerous and discriminatory” road layouts that put blind and partially-sighted people at risk of serious harm, say disabled campaigners.

The concerns have been raised by the user-led campaign group National Federation of the Blind of the UK (NFB UK), which has grown increasingly concerned by schemes being introduced across the country.

Among those councils it has highlighted are Manchester City Council, Leicester City Council, and Enfield council in north London.

In Enfield, the council has introduced bus stops that place blind and disabled pedestrians at risk of colliding with cyclists.

The “boarder” bus stops have cycle lanes between the bus stop and the boarding point for the bus.

Sarah Gayton, NFB UK’s shared space coordinator, said:I was shocked at what I saw in Enfield. I had been told it was bad but had no idea quite how bad it would be.

Anybody can see the design is flawed and is inherently dangerous.

The scheme is a disaster for blind people. It is difficult to see how this could have been approved as acceptable.”

In Manchester, the city council plans to introduce more than 30 bus stops in Chorlton as part of a new cycling scheme, including 14 boarder bus stops.

It also plans 17 bus stop “bypasses” or “islands”, which place the bus stop on an island, with pedestrians forced to cross a cycle lane to reach it.

NFB UK points to research carried out by Danish researchers which found that the number of collisions involving passengers entering or exiting a bus rose from five to 73 after bicycle lanes were introduced.

Other Danish research showed two-fifths of bus drivers across five cities in Denmark had witnessed bus passengers involved in collisions at both the types of bus stops.

NFB UK said that it had offered to work with Manchester City Council on the cycling scheme in August 2018 but its offer was not taken up.  

It now wants a halt to the introduction of all further bus stop boarders and bypasses across the country.

Many of these schemes include zebra crossings, and cyclists often fail to stop at these crossings, leaving blind and other disabled pedestrians unsure whether they can cross to exit or enter a bus.

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

Gayton said: “Both the bus stop boarders and bypasses really need to halt until we can work together to work out a different solution.”

In Leicester, NFB UK points to the removal of controlled crossings at key junctions, as part of the Connecting Leicester scheme, which it says has made key routes from the train station inaccessible.

Andrew Hodgson, NFB UK’s president, said some of the schemes introduced in London had “created real distress for blind and disabled people”, and that the Enfield scheme was “dangerous and discriminatory”.

NFB UK and the user-led accessible transport campaign organisation Transport for All supported a petition delivered to the prime minister last month by Enfield residents which called for stronger equality laws on the design and re-design of roads.

The petition also calls on the government to force local councils to commission independent equality impact assessments of all road and community re-design proposals and then “to abide by the findings and recommendations of those assessments”.

An Enfield council spokesperson said it “emphatically” rejected the suggestion that it had breached the Equality Act and said that it was “fully committed to equality in everything we do”.

She said the council had engaged with disability organisations including Enfield Disability Action, Guide Dogs for the Blind and Enfield Vision, and had worked directly with the Centre for Accessible Environments.

She said: “We believe that the current design for bus boarders in Enfield does make it clear that pedestrians have right of way.

In addition, the installation of buffer strips, ramps, signage and distinctive paving all inform cyclists that they are entering an area used by pedestrians and must give priority to pedestrians.

In our response to NFB UK, we reiterated that as we continue to deliver this programme, we will continue to explore more ways to constructively engage with a range of community groups.

As part of this, we are interested to hear the views of organisations who represent people who are visually impaired/have particular accessibility requirements.

This is the case in both informing early design work, and also in listening to any specific issues that are raised post-construction.”

She said that Transport for London (TfL), which funded its Cycle Enfield programme, was conducting a London-wide review of bus stop boarders, and she added: “We will consider any outcomes of this carefully in conjunction with TfL and if appropriate make adjustments.”

A Manchester City Council spokesperson said it was studying more than 1,800 responses to a public consultation on its proposed Manchester to Chorlton walking route and cycleway and would “take them into account before the designs are finalised”.

He said the council, along with Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner Chris Boardman and Trafford Borough Council, was “committed to providing a walking route and cycleway which is safe and accessible for all road users”.  

He said: “We have met with representatives of blind and partially-sighted residents to ensure they had the opportunity to review the designs and provided extra time for them to respond to the consultation. 

We thank them for their valuable input into this process and will take their comments fully into consideration during the process of finalising the designs.”

But he said the council was “not aware of a specific offer from NFB UK to ‘cooperate’ with us on the design of this scheme”.

A Leicester City Council spokesperson said it had met national guidelines in removing the two controlled crossings, which had “significantly reduced the number of vehicles in these locations and their speed”, while alternative pedestrian routes remained available. 

She said: “We listen to all comments received on schemes we propose. Ultimately, we have to decide what will be the most sensible solution to achieve a layout where people, not vehicles, dominate.

She said Leicester’s city mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, had taken part in a blindfolded walk around the city with local sight loss charity VISTA, which included the two sites, and he was now “considering the concerns raised with him”.

Sir Peter said: “I welcomed the opportunity to walk through the city with representatives of VISTA and a member of [NFB UK].

While we have done a lot in recent years to make the city centre much more accessible to people with disabilities, it was very useful to find out what barriers and challenges still remain.”

28 February 2019

 

 

Katherine Araniello: Tributes to ‘force of nature’ and ‘creative genius’

Disabled artists and activists are mourning the death of Katherine Araniello, a “force of nature” who leaves behind a “hugely significant” disability arts legacy.

Araniello was a performance and video artist who used satire and subversive humour at the expense of “dehumanising and patronising” targets such as disability charities, the Paralympics and media representation of disabled people.

Tony Heaton, chair and former chief executive of Shape Arts, said Araniello was “an original and independent thinker” with a “wicked sense of humour and irony”, and her death was a “huge and devastating loss”. 

Disability Arts Online said on Twitter that she was “a force of nature with such a sardonic wit that permeated all of her artworks” and would be “sorely missed by the disability arts community”.

The disabled Labour politician Mary Griffiths Clarke praised her “unrivalled wit and creative genius” and said on Twitter that the news of Araniello’s death had caused shockwaves across the disability rights movement.

In an interview with David Hevey for the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive (NDACA), Araniello said she first became politicised as a disabled person after leaving segregated education and discovering the concept of independent living through Greenwich Association of Disabled People, led at the time by Rachel Hurst.

She said: “From Rachel Hurst, I realised that for me there was only the social model of disability and being politicised… [which was] a far more natural way of thinking.”

Araniello was involved in the Campaign for Accessible Transport (CAT), which she said was “an adrenaline rush” because it was aimed at “blatant discrimination”, and the Block Telethon protests of the early 1990s, and also took part in direct action protests with the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN).

She told Hevey: “It was absolutely nauseating to watch on television people raising thousands of pounds for people that identified very much so as someone like me.

It was a humiliating thing to watch on television.”

She said that involvement in a movement of other disabled people who felt the same as she did had been empowering because “collectively it became very powerful”.

Among her work were the films she made parodying Channel Four’s adverts for the Paralympics, where “there were so many things that were offensive but you would only realise it if you had a critical eye to such narratives”.

She had been appalled at the decision to merge the London disability arts festival Liberty with National Paralympic Day.

A close friend of the late David Morris – whose idea it was to set up Liberty – she told Disability News Service (DNS) in 2013: “It feels like Liberty has become a sideline and the Paralympic side has taken the forefront, and I am absolutely disgusted about it.

I am not aware of any arts organisation that would merge with sport, but because it is disability it seems perfectly acceptable.

The other part I despise is that Paralympians are suddenly becoming spokespeople on disability when actually they haven’t engaged on that level because it isn’t what they do.”

She was dismissive of any suggestion of a legacy from the London 2012 Paralympics, arguing that life for disabled people had worsened since London 2012, with benefit cuts and the increasing difficulty of securing the funding they needed to ensure their independence.

She said: “We are feeling the threat. It is a threat to our existence and our future, participating in the world and contributing.”

Araniello said the Paralympics had painted a representation of disabled people “being capable and able in a sporting environment… an environment they are used to working in”.

She said: “But if you take them out of that environment… disability and access and barriers become all too paramount.

It is quite insulting to be honest to be in the mindset that people who do sport are going to change the future of other disabled persons’ lives, because they are not.”

She added: “The only positive that I see is I like the idea of seeing more disabled people being represented in the mainstream. If it has to be sport, then so be it.”

Among the many disability rights campaigns she supported were those to save the Independent Living Fund and to fight off attempts to legalise assisted dying.

In 2014, she told DNS that defeating Lord Falconer’s assisted dying bill was probably “the most fundamental issue” facing disabled people, because “if we are dead, nothing else matters”.

She said: “I see myself here today as protesting to save my life and everybody else’s life… We are all terminally-ill, we are all going to die at some point.”

She said it was deeply ironic that 20 years ago, she had been protesting to make buses accessible and “now, 20 years on, I am protesting to save my life and other disabled and elderly people’s lives”.

Araniello had a master’s degree in fine art from Goldsmiths, University of London, where she won the Warden’s Purchase prize for her pop video parody I Like That, having previously secured a first class degree in fine art from London Guildhall University, where she had been awarded the Owen Rowley Prize for her short film Slapping.

She often worked alone, but also collaborated with other disabled artists.

In 2006, she formed The Disabled Avant-Garde with Aaron Williamson.

Together, they produced films such as Amazing Art, Unbelievable, Damaged Dance and Stage Invasion, in which they invaded the stage at the 2011 Liberty festival to announce that “disability art is dead”.

Williamson said that it was a selection of their films that were shown as Melvyn Bragg was interviewing the disabled artist Yinka Shonibare in 2007 that prompted Shonibare to declare that disability arts was the last remaining avant-garde movement, a comment Bragg referred to in an article in The Guardian and which is often repeated.

Williamson, who told DNS of his grief at the loss of his friend and former collaborator this week, said: “Part of our armoury was aimed at the mainstream ‘able’ society.

But also, we were extremely critical of the hubris and the sanitised versions of ‘disability art’ that were dominant during our period of operations.

We had innumerable rejections of art proposals from so-called ‘disability art’ schemes, even as we were being critically acclaimed around the world.”

In an interview published by the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies in 2013, Araniello said her work was “always about giving fresh, alternative perspectives on disability” and creating work that would “shift people’s perspectives on contemporary issues of disability”.

Among the many art galleries and festivals that showed her work were Tate Modern, Tate Britain, DaDaFest, the Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Serpentine Gallery, the Canadian Arts and Disability Festival, and the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Michigan.

She was also on the board of the Live Art Development Agency.

Heaton said: “I thought Katherine was an original and independent thinker who thought disabled people should be politicised and embrace the social model. 

She was an early proponent of disability arts and her work, often subversive, falls clearly within the canon of disability arts; her work made people question, quite rightly, the way society marginalises disabled people.

She had a wicked sense of humour and irony, very evident in her work, and she was always great company to be with. 

Her death is a huge and devastating loss and it’s vital we keep Katherine’s life and work in the public arena.

28 February 2019

 

 

Government announces plans for extension of personal health budgets

The government wants to increase the number of people who use personal health budgets (PHBs) to choose their own health and social care support from 40,000 to as many as 200,000 over the next five years.

It has approved extending legal rights to PHBs to disabled people eligible for funding from NHS wheelchair services, and those eligible for aftercare services under section 117 of the Mental Health Act.

But it also signalled that these rights would eventually be extended to other groups, including people with ongoing social care needs who also make regular and continuing use of particular NHS services; people leaving the armed services who are eligible for ongoing NHS services; and autistic people and those with learning difficulties who are eligible for ongoing NHS care.

PHBs give individuals a pot of money to spend on their health and wellbeing needs, in agreement with a healthcare professional.

Many disabled campaigners have supported the expansion of PHBs, arguing that they could help deliver independent living for disabled people, while others have raised concerns that they could be part of a creeping privatisation of the NHS, and that they are based on the same “failing” model used with social care personal budgets.

Currently, only adults receiving NHS Continuing Healthcare, and children and young people who receive continuing care, have the right to a PHB.

But the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England have now published their response to a consultation, which ended last June, on extending that right to other groups and the possibility of extending that to include a right to have the PHB managed through direct payments.

The government response says people “value being involved in the planning of their care, being able to make choices and personalise their support so it best meets their needs”.

And it says the evidence suggests that those who can do that “are more satisfied with their care, have better outcomes, and are able to explore more innovative approaches to meet their needs”.

The consultation also asked for views on whether the government should bring together PHBs and social care personal budgets – and educational needs in the case of disabled children and young people – into an integrated personal budget.

The consultation results suggested widespread support for a further expansion of PHBs, with 87 per cent (330 of 379 people) of those who answered the question saying they believed that autistic people and those with learning difficulties who are eligible for ongoing NHS care should have a legal right to a PHB or an integrated personal budget.

And more than 90 per cent supported extending the right to a PHB or integrated personal budget to those using NHS wheelchair services, with 87 per cent saying this group should also have a right to receive that budget via direct payments, if appropriate.

DHSC and NHS England said their ambition was “to move towards joined up and integrated provision across health and social care” through a “comprehensive model of integrated, personalised care” and with PHBs and integrated personal budgets “a key component” of this plan.

These plans are set out in the new NHS Long Term Plan.

The government and NHS England said they believed that more than 200,000 people would have a PHB by 2023-24, including many from the five groups they consulted on last year.

Although the government is only taking forward legislation on those using wheelchair services and mental health aftercare, it says it will “continue to further explore both the other groups we consulted on, and additional groups who we believe could also benefit from having a right to have a personal health budget”.

Some additional groups that could benefit and were mentioned by those taking part in the consultation included people with dementia, people receiving end-of-life care, and those receiving community equipment.

NHS England said it would continue to work with clinical commissioning groups to “design and test” the use of PHBs for other groups of people and service areas.

Care minister Caroline Dinenage said: I’ve seen first-hand how personal health budgets can give people a new lease of life, granting them the ability to enjoy their lives to the full.

These budgets help to join up health and social care services, improving people’s experiences and outcomes whilst ensuring value for money for taxpayers.

We are therefore extending access so many more people can benefit, a key part of our NHS Long Term Plan which will see personalised care become the norm for millions more.”

28 February 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:48
Feb 222019
 

 

Jodey Whiting: DWP ignored five ‘safeguarding’ chances before WCA suicide

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to the suicide of a disabled woman with a long history of mental distress, an independent investigation has found.

The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) concluded that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case of mother-of-nine Jodey Whiting, who had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA), and took her own life just 15 days later.

The report is the latest evidence of the institutional failure of DWP to guarantee the safety of disabled people – and particularly those with a history of mental distress – within the “fitness for work” system.

DWP has accepted the report’s findings.

Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove, has now called for DWP and those staff responsible to face a criminal investigation for the failures that led to the death of her much-loved daughter, who she described as a “lovely, caring, thoughtful” person who adored her children and grandchildren.

She said her daughter had died a “martyr” and that campaigners were right to say that the Tory government had created a “hostile environment for disabled people”.

The 42-year-old had been taking 23 tablets a day at the time she died, for conditions including scoliosis and bipolar disorder, and had been taking morphine twice daily.

She had been a long-time claimant of incapacity benefit, and then employment and support allowance (ESA), and DWP and its assessors had previously noted the severity of her mental health condition, and the risk that would be posed if she was found fit for work.

When she was approached again for another assessment in the autumn of 2016, she told DWP about her suicidal thoughts and requested a home assessment as she said she rarely left the house.

But even though a “flag” was placed on DWP’s ESA system to alert staff that she was a “vulnerable” claimant because of her mental health condition, DWP failed to refer her request for a home visit to Maximus, the company that carries out WCAs on its behalf.

Maximus also failed to act on her request, even though it had been included in the ESA50 form she had filled out.

But this was just the first of five serious failings by DWP in the weeks leading up to her death, the ICE report has concluded.

Whiting, from Stockton, Teesside, failed to open a letter asking her to attend a face-to-face assessment on 16 January 2017, and so missed the WCA.

She had been ill with pneumonia and receiving hospital treatment for a cyst on the brain and had been taking painkillers which affected her ability to cope with correspondence.

DWP’s safeguarding procedures say the department should contact vulnerable claimants by telephone if they miss their assessment, but the ICE investigation found no evidence that this had been done.

It should also consider a safeguarding visit to the claimant’s home, but again there was no evidence this was done, the ICE report says.

After receiving a letter asking her to explain her failure to attend the WCA, Whiting told DWP that she had not received the letter about the assessment and explained about her pneumonia and hospital treatment.

She said her GP wanted the department to write to the surgery so the doctor could provide detailed information about her health.

But DWP failed to write to the GP, its fourth failure to protect Jodey Whiting from serious harm.

On 6 February, a DWP decision-maker wrote to Whiting to say that she had provided no proof of the pneumonia and failing to receive the letter about the assessment and so her ESA would be stopped.

But the decision-maker appears to have failed to consider her mental health history in making that decision, says ICE.

This was DWP’s fifth separate failure to follow its own safeguarding guidance.

Whiting phoned DWP to protest the decision to stop her ESA and then an adviser from Citizen’s Advice wrote to DWP on her behalf on 15 February to explain the situation and request another assessment, and explained that she had been given a foodbank voucher.

DWP claims it never received this letter.

Six days later, on 21 February 2017 – two years ago today – Jodey Whiting took her own life. Her body was discovered by her mother.

The report by the Independent Case Examiner, Joanna Wallace, says: “In total there have been five opportunities for DWP processes to prompt particular consideration of Jodey’s mental health status and give careful consideration to her case because of it – none of those were taken.”

She concludes that there were “multiple failings in the handling of Jodey’s case prior to her suicide”.

Wallace’s report, addressed to Jodey Whiting’s mother, adds: “I find it extremely disappointing that in investigating the complaints you have raised, we have seen that DWP have either failed to investigate, or failed to acknowledge, the extent of events in Jodey’s case.

“As such the facts of the case have not been made clear to you and no appropriate apology has been made.”

DWP has agreed to the ICE recommendation that it should pay £10,000 to the family as a “consolatory” payment for its “repeated failures to follow their safeguarding procedures” and other failings that took place after her death (see separate story).

Joy Dove, who has campaigned for justice – including through her Justice for Jodey petition – said her daughter had “died a martyr”.

She said: “I hope she has not died in vain.”

She said the way DWP had treated her daughter showed that campaigners have been right to accuse the Tory government of creating a “hostile environment for disabled people”.

She said she cried when she read the ICE report because she believes it vindicates her belief that DWP was responsible for her daughter’s death.

Now she wants to see DWP itself and the staff responsible for her daughter’s death face a criminal investigation.

She said: “What they have done is criminal. They had all the information in front of them. Five times they failed.

“I would like to see them charged, all of them who had anything to do with Jodey’s case.

“I’m not frightened of them. They can do what they want.”

She said she was grateful to ICE for its report exposing DWP’s serious failings, and now wants to see changes by DWP to prevent another death like her daughter’s.

She said her own health had suffered because of what happened to her daughter – she herself is an ESA claimant – and the struggle to secure justice for her, and that she had fallen into debt because of her efforts to provide a fitting funeral for her daughter in 2017.

Despite those financial struggles, part of her sees the £10,000 as “blood money” and wants it to go to charity.

Jodey’s nine children are now aged between 18 and 27. She had six grandchildren at the time she died. Another four have been born since she died.

She said: “They have been denied their grandmother. She loved her grandchildren and she never met four of them.”

She thanked Citizen’s Advice in Stockton, whose staff have worked on the case for two years.

She also thanked all those who have supported the family over the last two years, including strangers who have contacted her through social media and shared their own experiences of other cases in which DWP’s policies and procedures have led to the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

A DWP spokesperson refused to say if the department accepted that its own safeguarding failings had helped cause Jodey Whiting’s death.

And she refused to say if the five separate failings in just one case showed it was time for DWP to accept that it had a serious institutional problem around the safeguarding of vulnerable benefit claimants.

But she said in a statement: “We apologise to Ms Whiting’s family for the failings in how we handled her case and the distress this caused them.

“Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time and we are providing compensation.

“We fully accept the Independent Case Examiner’s findings and are reviewing our procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

A Maximus spokesperson said: “We offer our sincere sympathies to the family of Ms Whiting at this difficult time.

“[Maximus] will examine the ICE report in detail to understand what lessons can be learnt.

“We always review the capability for work questionnaire and any accompanying medical evidence to establish if a face-to-face assessment is required.

“This includes consideration of whether an individual is able to attend an assessment centre by public transport or taxi.”

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

21 February 2019

 

 

Jodey Whiting: DWP continued to phone woman who took her own life, inquiry finds

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) continued to phone and write to a disabled woman who had taken her own life after having her benefits stopped, an independent investigation has found.

The report by the Independent Case Examiner (ICE), Joanna Wallace, concluded that the DWP has no system that immediately alerts all the relevant staff that a claimant of employment and support allowance (ESA) has died.

Because of that failure, DWP continued to phone mum-of-nine Jodey Whiting, and leave voice messages for her, and also wrote to her, after she had taken her own life in February 2017.

DWP had failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the months leading up to Whiting’s suicide, the investigation also found (see separate story).

The ICE report concludes that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling the case of Jodey Whiting, who took her own life after DWP stopped her ESA payments for missing a work capability assessment, despite her long, recorded history of serious mental distress and suicidal thoughts.

The ICE report highlights the failure of the cross-government Tell Us Once system, which is supposed to ensure that bereaved relatives only need to make one call to the government when a family member has died, with that information passed on to more than 20 services, including those run by DWP.

A Citizens Advice adviser had informed DWP of Whiting’s death on 23 February, two days after she died at her home in Stockton, Teesside.

But two days later, on 25 February, DWP sent Jodey Whiting a letter to tell her that a mandatory reconsideration of the decision to stop her ESA – the internal DWP appeal stage – had confirmed that decision.

The ESA computer system was not updated to show she had died until 1 March.

But even then, other parts of DWP were not notified of her death.

The ICE said in her report, addressed to Whiting’s mother, Joy Dove: “I can only imagine how distressing it must have been to receive that letter at such a sad time.

“I have considered the responses that were provided to both you and your representative after you raised this matter with DWP, and I found their explanation of the process to be insensitive, in that they showed no apparent appreciation of the impact this would have had on you.”

DWP also continued to call Jodey Whiting and leave voicemail messages for her for another two months, says the ICE report.

Wallace said it was “critical that next of kin who have been told that bereavement information to ‘Tell Us Once’ would be dealt with as a priority, should be confident that no further correspondence will be sent to the deceased claimant”.

But the ICE investigation was told by DWP that there is no process to deal with Tell Us Once notifications immediately and no target timescale for them to be processed.

And the investigation also found that DWP had no standard process in place to tell its decision-makers and dispute resolution team that a claimant has died.

Wallace told Dove that she did not believe that DWP “have recognised the apparent administrative failures that allowed [the letter to be sent on 25 February], nor have they fully recognised the impact this has had on you”.

She added: “It is regrettable that it has taken this very sad case to show that there is not a robust process in place to ensure that death notifications are dealt with as a priority, and that all potentially relevant teams are informed.”

Wallace said she would be “raising these matters with DWP”.

Dove, who has campaigned for justice – including through her Justice for Jodey petition – said she was grateful to ICE for its report exposing DWP’s serious failings, and also thanked Citizen’s Advice in Stockton, whose staff have worked on the case for two years.

She also thanked all those who have supported the family over the last two years, including strangers who have contacted her through social media and shared their own experiences of cases in which DWP’s policies and procedures have led to the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.

DWP has agreed to ICE’s recommendation that it should pay £10,000 to the family as a “consolatory” payment for its “repeated failures to follow their safeguarding procedures” and the other failings that took place after Jodey Whiting’s death.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We apologise to Ms Whiting’s family for the failings in how we handled her case and the distress this caused them.

“Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time and we are providing compensation.

“We fully accept the Independent Case Examiner’s findings and are reviewing our procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

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

21 February 2019

 

 

DWP ‘refused reasonable adjustments for community recruits’

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) repeatedly failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people who were recruited to build bridges between jobcentres and the local community, it has been claimed.

But the department also appears to be set to discard all the disabled people they recruited from outside the Civil Service when their fixed-term contracts end.

It is feared that none of the scores of Community Partners taken on by DWP to build relationships between jobcentres and local organisations will secure permanent roles when their contracts end at the end of next month.

It is just the latest example of apparent hypocrisy from the government department responsible for the derided Disability Confident scheme, and which itself has been given the accolade of being a “Disability Confident Leader” under its own programme.

Some Community Partners were originally recruited from within DWP and it is believed that it is only these staff members who will continue to work for the department after next month.

The Community Partner role was devised by ministers as a way to “help shape the support disabled people and those with health conditions receive, develop a national mentoring network and build relationships with specialist organisations in your area”.

The former minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, said two years ago that Community Partners would “develop a more comprehensive package of employment support and strengthen work coach understanding of disability”.

But instead, many Community Partners spent months “fighting tooth and nail” to secure the reasonable adjustments they needed to do their job, leading to a string of grievances and resignations.

Phil Samphire, who worked as a Community Partner in Manchester for a year, has told Disability News Service (DNS) that none of his colleagues who had been recruited externally had secured permanent jobs with DWP at the end of their contracts.

Samphire, who has cerebral palsy and dyslexia, said he had requested a note-taker and administrative support, but that had been refused.

Instead, he was promised speech-to-text and dyslexia software, but by the time he left the post after 12 months he was still waiting for them to be available to use.

And because he can only use one hand, he says he was forced to travel an hour across Manchester by bus to another office so a manager could fill in his time sheets and expenses.

Despite being forced to use public transport – because he does not drive – he was given no extra time to reach appointments.

Samphire said his mental health deteriorated because of the pressure of having to cope with the inaccessible workplace, including IT equipment that required keyboard skills he did not have as a result of his impairment.

He said: “It was causing me massive stress because the system was inaccessible to me.”

Every time he wanted to send an email, he had to dictate the message into his own iPad, then email that to his work email address, log in to a work computer, and then forward the email to the work colleague.

Samphire said the only Community Partners who managed to secure the reasonable adjustments they needed were those who were on secondment from other employers and so were able to take advantage of the government’s Access to Work scheme.

He said: “I would never work in the Civil Service again.”

Another disabled former Community Partner has told DNS how DWP failed to provide her with the reasonable adjustments she needed during the six months she worked there.

Rachel*, who is dyslexic, had requested speech-to-text software, a specialist mouse and keyboard and a laptop, so she could work across different offices, but they had not arrived by the time she left six months later.

She was eventually given an ergonomic chair after working in pain for more than three months.

She was also given a yellow plastic overlay sheet, which can be placed over a piece of writing to help with dyslexia, but that was no use to her because DWP uses only grey – instead of white – paper, and even this took three months to arrive.

She said: “You don’t feel confident. It’s OK writing an email to people who know you when you’re dyslexic, but you don’t really want to be writing emails to people who don’t know you, especially in that environment.”

She said the delays were particularly stressful because her contract was only for 12 months.

Rachel said: “I think an awful lot of people who have done the job have put up and shut up because it is so hard for disabled people to get work.

“They treat their staff the way they treat their clients. It gives their staff even more reason to treat people badly.

“They just see it as normality, and I think that’s quite scary.”

She eventually complained about the failure to provide the adjustments she needed but was fired shortly afterwards when DWP discovered she had retweeted a social media post criticising Iain Duncan Smith.

She was told she had brought the department into disrepute, even though she believes the tweet was sent before she started working for DWP, and that nobody who followed her on Twitter had known she was working for DWP.

DNS has been told by a third Community Partner, Louise*, of colleagues being denied flexible working, ergonomic equipment and screen-reading software.

She heard from colleagues of a Deaf Community Partner in another part of the country who resigned after being told she could only have a British Sign Language interpreter for two out of five days every week.

Community Partners were first mentioned publicly in the October 2016 green paper Improving Lives.

The posts were funded by some of the savings made by cutting nearly £30 a week to payments to new claimants of employment and support allowance placed in the work-related activity group, a measure introduced in April 2017.

But ministers appear to have now decided it is too expensive to extend the contracts of any of the externally-recruited Community Partners.

Louise’s understanding is that not one of these Community Partner have been offered a permanent job.

Instead, DWP will ask work coaches and disability employment advisers to take responsibility for the contacts developed with disabled people and local organisations over the last two years.

Louise said she and her colleagues felt as though they had been used and then abandoned by DWP.

Many of the Community Partners built close relationships with local disabled people’s and community organisations, she said.

She added: “Apparently a review has found that we have not made enough of an impact but some of us have only been in the role for little more than a year because of the difficulty of recruiting in some areas.

“Our roles will now be taken on by disability employment advisers, who will not have the lived experience of disability that we have.

“The changes we have made will now be abandoned, and our suggestions for improvements will not be implemented.

“The green paper was meant to help people back into work, but they are now getting rid of [up to] 200 disabled people and people with lived experience of disability.”

Rachel said it would not surprise her if none of the Community Partners recruited externally secured permanent jobs.

She said: “I don’t think they were ever proper jobs.”

She was asked to prepare a presentation on the social model of disability but when it returned after she had sent it off to a manager to be approved it had been rewritten.

She said: “They weren’t really prepared to let us teach anyone about the social model because their social model of disability and my social model of disability are actually quite different.”

Louise said she believed ministers expected Community Partners to come in and tell jobcentres what a fantastic job they were doing, but instead “we have shown them where their flaws are, and yet they don’t address those flaws”.

She added: “Because they are Disability Confident Leaders, they thought we would say everything was great.”

Louise said: “We have led community groups on. We have told them we are trying to make better contacts between them and DWP and trying to change the face of DWP and make it more friendly.

“Now we have done that [DWP] are saying, ‘We don’t need you anymore.’”

A DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We value the work of the Community Partners and the contribution that they have made.

“It is not true that the Community Partner roles are ending for financial reasons. We were transparent from the outset in relation to the length of the appointments.

“We are committed to continually improving the employment support we offer disabled people, and will ensure valuable learning from the Community Partners is built into the ongoing support we provide through our jobcentres.

“Reasonable adjustments for Community Partners were delivered according to the Equality Act.

“Many Community Partners are likely to remain in the Civil Service, and in some cases will have the opportunity to move into similar roles with Jobcentre Plus.

“We are committed to providing full support to Community Partners as they move into the next stage of their career.”

But she refused to say how many externally-recruited Community Partners would be given permanent roles by DWP when the fixed-term contracts end next month; how many Community Partners were recruited externally; and how many of those recruited were disabled people.

*Not their real names

21 February 2019

 

 

Call for urgent probe into police passing DWP information about protesters

There are growing concerns and calls for an urgent investigation into admissions by two police forces that they have shared information about protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Both Lancashire and Greater Manchester police forces have now admitted passing on information to DWP about people taking part in protests.

The admissions originally came following claims reported by Disability News Service (DNS) that police forces had been targeting disabled people taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

Lancashire police then admitted in December that it had shared both information and video footage of disabled anti-fracking protesters with DWP, in an apparent attempt to have their disability benefits removed.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) then told DNS that it had passed DWP information – but not video footage – relating to protesters taking part in the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, Salford.

Those protests took place in 2013 and 2014, but the force also confirmed that it has shared information with DWP from protests not connected with fracking.

There is now growing confusion over how many forces are involved, what information they are handing DWP, in what circumstances they hand it over and on what legal grounds, and whether this exchange of information is based on any written agreements.

Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, called last night (Wednesday) for an investigation into the extent of information sharing between police forces and DWP.

Last week, GMP admitted having a “sharing agreement” with DWP, even though the department explicitly stated two months ago – and repeated this week – that it had no such “formal arrangement” with GMP or any other force.

But GMP has now backtracked from this admission, claiming there is no “specific formal agreement or policy in place” after all, and stating that the sharing of information that takes place between the two organisations is carried out under the Data Protection Act.

It has denied trying to cover up its relationship with DWP.

Labour’s deputy mayor for policing for Greater Manchester, Baroness [Bev] Hughes, backed her force’s decision to share information with DWP.

She said the force had “a duty to act if they judge that individuals may be breaking, or have broken, the law”.

She said: “I have consulted with senior officers within GMP who have assured me that there is no formal ‘sharing agreement’ in place, and that the police act on a case by case basis, sharing information in accordance with the Data Protection Act.

“Protestors in Greater Manchester should never be deterred from exercising their right to protest.

“Should they do so in accordance with the law, GMP will continue to do as it always does and facilitate such protests.”

But de Cordova said the sharing of information with DWP by police forces was “a violation of trust”.

She said: “This is yet further proof of the hostile environment that this Conservative government has created for disabled people.

“This violation of trust is not only shocking but also could threaten disabled people’s access to vital social security.

“There must be an urgent further investigation into the extent of information sharing and action must be taken to end this harmful practice.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “As we have reiterated previously, there is no formal arrangement with the police for this scenario.

“The department does not request referrals from the police and there is no obligation on either the police or members of the public to provide referrals.

“In the event we receive information from the police, we consider it on its merits.

“As is the case with any responsible government department, we stand ready to assist the police in the event they request information from us for the purposes of crime prevention or detection.

“This service is provided under the Data Protection Act for the purposes of preventing and detecting crime.”

Meanwhile, GMP said this week that it had not shared any information with DWP about disabled activists who took part in the anti-austerity protests that took place outside the Conservative party conferences in Manchester in 2015 and 2017.

The Conservative party is returning to Manchester for its annual conference in October.

21 February 2019

 

 

Long-awaited Newton meeting confirms confusion over DPO engagement

Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have raised ongoing concerns about the government’s failure to comply with basic principles of the UN disability convention at a long-awaited meeting with the minister for disabled people.

Representatives of six of the UK’s leading DPOs met with minister for disabled people Sarah Newton and senior civil servants last week to discuss the government’s track record on engaging with disabled people and their user-led organisations.

It was the first time that Newton had met with the group of DPOs – members of the UK CRPD Monitoring Coalition of Disabled People’s Organisations – since she took up her post in late 2017.

Representatives from coalition members Inclusion London (which was also there on behalf of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance), Disability Wales, Inclusion Scotland, Disability Action (Northern Ireland), the National Survivor User Network and Equalities National Council attended the meeting.

The coalition also used the meeting to share its ideas for monitoring the UK’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

The meeting follows a series of failings by the government which appear to demonstrate its reluctance to accept key rights and principles laid out in the convention.

They include plans to allow non-disabled people and organisations not led and controlled by disabled people to be part of Newton’s new Regional Stakeholder Network – which aims to “provide a channel for disabled people and their organisations to share their views and experiences about policies and services that affect them” – and Newton’s reluctance to pay those people taking on roles in the network for their time.

There was also frustration at the decision of the Cabinet Office to host a workshop on the barriers facing disabled people without inviting any DPOs to take part.

And in November, the Department of Health and Social Care wrongly insisted that it had been complying with the UN convention by only consulting on its mental capacity (amendment) bill with non-user-led charities like Mencap and Sense.

Last week’s meeting came after the coalition was forced to write to Newton last August after she refused to meet them to discuss the UK’s failure to implement the UN convention.

But the long-awaited meeting ended last week without easing concerns among DPOs at the apparent ongoing confusion among senior civil servants in the Office for Disability Issues (ODI), and Newton herself, about the convention’s principles around engagement.

A meeting earlier in the day between three members of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (RoFA) – which is part of the coalition – and two senior civil servants from the Office for Disability Issues was also marked by frustration at the government’s apparent ignorance of the UN convention.

Mark Harrison, from RoFA, said they had hoped to come out of their meeting with a strategy for how the government would engage with DPOs and resource them in that work, but left disappointed.

He said Newton’s regional network was set to be a “disability free-for-all”, with disability charities and other organisations “all in the tent on an equal footing” with disabled people and DPOs.

He said he had asked the civil servants why they did not understand the principles on engaging with disabled people and DPOs that had been clearly laid out by the UN.

He said the core of the issue was the failure by repeated governments – including the last Labour government – to provide infrastructure funding for DPOs to do this work, which he said was “absolutely shameful”.

Tara Flood, director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education, who was also at this meeting, said the civil servants became “very, very uncomfortable” when she and her two colleagues made it clear they thought the new regional network was “a joke”.

She said there was “no understanding of the difference between DPOs and disability charities. Shame on the ODI for not understanding that.”

It is now hoped Newton will agree to three key requests: for both the regional network and any similar UK-wide engagement to be restricted to representatives of DPOs; for there to be funding for DPOs to take part in that engagement; and for those networks to work with the government on implementing the recommendations made 18 months ago by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, who was present at both meetings, said there appeared to be ongoing confusion within the government about the difference between DPOs and non-user-led charities.

She said: “We put forward what we think are key minimum asks in order to have meaningful engagement going forward.

“We will now see whether the government has listened to us and taken the opportunity to clarify, improve and extend engagement with us so it reflects and promotes the principles and practice of the UNCRPD and general comment number seven*.”

She added: “It is slightly dismaying having to reiterate principles of engagement with disabled people and DPOs that were recognised and acted upon 10 years ago, and having to re-argue them as if they were radical new ideas descended from another planet.”

*The UNCRPD makes it clear that, when developing laws and policies relating to disabled people, governments “must closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations”.

It defines “representative organizations” as those that are “led, directed and governed by persons with disabilities”, a definition which the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities included in its general comment number seven, which was adopted in September.

21 February 2019

 

 

Watchdogs’ comments boost hopes for rail access improvements

Powerful warnings from two watchdogs about the barriers faced by disabled passengers have been welcomed as a “wonderful step in re-instating access to rail for all” by a leading accessible transport expert.

One of the two watchdogs, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), warned the government and train operating companies that two major elements of the rail system could be discriminating against disabled passengers.

In a letter to MPs on the Commons transport select committee, EHRC chair David Isaac says the commission is concerned about the impact of “ongoing transport policies”, particularly the move towards running more trains without a member of customer services staff on board – driver-only operated (DOO) trains – and an increase in unstaffed stations.

EHRC also says that the need for many disabled rail passengers to book assistance up to 24 hours before their journeys means they cannot “turn up and go” like non-disabled people.

Both of these could be a breach of the Equality Act, he says.

Isaac says in the letter that EHRC is so concerned by these and other barriers to public transport that face disabled people that it is likely to include access to transport as one of its priorities in its new strategic plan.

He adds: “If, as seems likely, that priority is taken forward, we will be looking at a range of activities to clarify, enhance and further the protections available for disabled people across all transport modes, including utilising our unique enforcement powers to drive change.”

His letter was a response to questions from Lilian Greenwood, the Labour chair of the committee, who had also raised similar concerns with the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

ORR’s chair, Declan Collier, said in his response to Greenwood that it was clear that train and station operators “could do more to improve accessibility of the rail network”.

He said they needed to do more to “consider the normal operating conditions across their network and to assess where passengers are most likely to not be able to receive the required assistance”.

He added: “They need to have clear measures in place to ensure that passengers who have not booked assistance in advance can still receive it.”

He said ORR had set up an advisory group, including industry, government and disability groups, to help improve rail passenger assistance.

The two letters have been welcomed by transport campaigners.

Ann Bates, a leading transport access consultant and former rail chair of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC), said the comments by EHRC and ORR followed years of campaigning by her and others, including the Association of British Commuters, on the risks posed by DOO.

She said: “ABC and myself have continued to lobby with the ORR and EHRC and others over the years for a confirmation of our sincerely held belief that no DOO trains should call at unstaffed stations, thus denying safe travel to anyone who requires assistance in and out of the train.

“We have since discovered that DPTAC, the government’s statutory advisers on the transport needs of disabled people, have also been lobbying within the department and seemingly being ignored.

“Following the enquiry from the transport select committee and its chair about the subject, the two replies dated 5 February (EHRC) and 6 February (ORR) both contain many of the points that we have been lobbying with, such as reference to the Equality Act, the decrease in staffed stations, the failures and restrictions of the Passenger Assist scheme, etc.”

She said she was “particularly heartened” by the change in tone on the need for disabled passengers to have the right to “turn up and go” and enjoy “spontaneous travel”.

She added: “This is a wonderful step in re-instating access to rail for all, and thus building back confidence in travel for both business and pleasure in the larger population.”

21 February 2019

 

 

Disabled residents play ground-breaking co-production role in major development

Disabled people have played a “ground-breaking” role in co-producing a major new redevelopment scheme.

The role played by disabled people in the planning application to redevelop Hammersmith town hall and the surrounding area in London is the first major product of a pioneering agreement to embed a genuine culture of co-production within Hammersmith and Fulham council.

A report last year by the Hammersmith and Fulham Disabled People’s Commission was accepted in full by the council and hailed as a blueprint for disabled people’s organisations across the country to push for change from their own local authorities.

Now disabled campaigners are welcoming the submission – and approval – of the planning application for the redevelopment of grade two-listed Hammersmith town hall, a new town square, and four new buildings, including 204 new homes, offices and a cinema, as proof that the council has been true to its word.

The application was partly presented to the council’s planning committee last week by one of the disabled residents who have worked in co-production on the plans.

Tracey Proudlock, founder of the leading access consultancy Proudlock Associates, which has been working as inclusive design consultants with architects Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, said she believed the level of co-production on the scheme was “ground-breaking” and had come about as a result of the disabled people’s commission.

She said there had been regular meetings with the team of disabled residents – who were paid for their work – and “everybody was giving feedback and opinions” and “nothing could be kicked into the long grass”.

At the beginning of the co-production work, Proudlock Associates ran a training day for the disabled residents in technical issues such as reading architectural plans, interpreting drawings and symbols, and how the planning process works, as well as on inclusive design.

Proudlock said the level of co-production on the scheme helped convince English Heritage to allow significant changes to improve access to the main council chamber.

She said: “Disabled people were part of the planning. Their opinions were written into the planning application.”

Among the development’s features are wheelchair-accessible homes spread across the residential blocks; a Changing Places toilet; a managed toilet area for assistance dogs near the town hall entrance; as well as many other inclusive design features.

Jane Wilmot, one of the team of disabled residents who worked on the scheme alongside the architects and Proudlock Associates, said: “Barriers faced by disabled people in using buildings and open spaces were raised early before plans were submitted rather than left to detailed design at a later stage.

“This way of working together allowed robust solutions to be found early as well as saving time and money for the developer.

“This is most unusual and should be adopted in all major development projects.”

She said this would not have happened without the council’s commitment and strategy of co-production.

Cllr Stephen Cowan, leader of the Labour-run council, said in a statement: “We are determined to make our borough the most inclusive in the UK.

“[This] is why we asked the borough’s independent Disabled Residents Team to work with our architects from the beginning to make our new civic campus one of the most accessible buildings in the country.

“The end result speaks for itself and demonstrates how the principles of co-production can be applied to a wide range of areas – from designing buildings, to designing services, and to dismantling all the barriers that disable disabled people.

“We’re very proud of all the advice and hard work Hammersmith and Fulham’s independent Disabled Residents Team has given and know that by delivering changes – such as those typified with this beautiful, accessible new civic campus – that they’ll not only help us change our borough to be the best place for disabled people, but will set the mark that helps change our country.”

Tara Flood, who chaired the commission, said the co-production work was a significant achievement and should act as a blueprint for other local authorities to follow in engaging with disabled people.

She said it had not been “perfect co-production” because the disabled residents were not involved from the start of the design and development process.

But she said: “Once disabled residents were involved, they were treated with the utmost respect and treated very seriously.

“It would not have happened had the commission not existed.

“This process fundamentally shifted in the right direction once disabled people were involved.

“There is no doubt that Tracey and Liam Proudlock were instrumental in making that happen and provided some really excellent support to the disabled residents who got involved in that process.”

21 February 2019

 

 

Council told to improve disability equality training after councillor’s ‘ignorant’ attack

A disabled politician has described the equality training given to fellow councillors as “a joke” after a Liberal Democrat rival was forced to apologise for posting a message on social media that accused him of using his impairment for political purposes.

The comments by Lib Dem Joe Naitta were targeted last June at fellow Derby city councillor Amo Raju, who is a Labour party member and also chief executive of the user-led organisation Disability Direct.

Naitta said in a Facebook post to his supporters: “This one uses his disability, get rid of labour in Blagreaves ward.”

Raju is the only Labour councillor in the ward. The other two are Liberal Democrats.

Naitta later deleted the post.

The comment was reported to the council by Disability Direct trustees, after they told Raju they were “totally outraged” by the comment and its possible impact on disabled people who want to stand for election.

Now a council investigation has led to Naitta being forced to apologise in writing to Raju, and post an apology on Facebook for the comment which he said “suggested that another councillor used his disability for political purposes”.

Naitta added: “I fully accept that this comment was wrong and I should not have made it.

“It was made in haste and was withdrawn soon afterwards but I know people did view it.”

Raju said he believed that such targeted comments could deter other disabled people from entering politics, and he has called for the council to improve the disability equality training offered to councillors.

He said: “Equality training is just sitting in front of a computer and doing some e-learning, which I think is a joke. I have done it and it’s a joke.”

He added: “There is a principle here that we should be encouraging more disabled people to stand for election. These kinds of comments deter disabled people.”

He described Naitta’s comment as “an ignorant and opportunistic attack on my character”.

He said: “I have been a councillor for just under four years, CEO of Disability Direct over 20 years and have had cerebral palsy all my life.

“Yet not in any instance have I taken advantage of the latter.”

Raju said he stood for office because he believed there should be more disabled people in politics, according to the principle of “nothing about us without us”.

An Equality and Human Rights Commission spokesperson said: “It is essential to a healthy democracy that everyone has the right to participate fully in all aspects of political life.

“We know that disabled people often face prejudice and experience humiliating or intimidating treatment in elected office.

“We all have a responsibility to treat people with dignity and respect, and political parties and governments need to ensure that our elected representatives are protected from abuse so that our political system truly reflects the diversity of our society.”

A Derby City Council spokesperson said: “A complaint was received last year, and handled by the council’s monitoring officer at the time.

“Subsequently, the complaint was brought to the standards committee, who reviewed the case at their meeting in February.

“This item was exempt from the press and public, and remains so.

“The complaint was resolved internally, however if Cllr Raju wishes to take this further, he can do so with the relevant authority.

“Our training for colleagues and members, which is delivered online, is regularly reviewed and updated based on current legislation and best practice.

“We won’t tolerate any form of discrimination at Derby City Council, and encourage our colleagues and members to report any such instances.”

Naitta had failed to comment on his apology by noon today (Thursday).

21 February 2019

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 Posted by at 19:33
Feb 182019
 

Disabled People Against Cuts and our allies in the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance are campaigning for a National Independent Living Support Service capable of upholding disabled people’s rights to independent living and building on what was so effective about the Independent Living Fund before it was closed in spite of enormous opposition in June 2015.

Please call on your union branches and CLPs to pass motions supporting the campaign. Thanks to Sean McGovern for the wording of a suggested motion as below. If you would like someone to speak at your branch meeting please send details to mail@dpac.uk.net.

For information about our vision of a National Independent Living Support Service, download this document: NILS-summary-doc-2

 

National Independent Living Support Service Motion

There is no doubt that social care is in crisis. A crisis brought about by years of Conservative governments’ ideological austerity policies. Today we have a failing system unable to meet current need; and certainly, unfit to respond to predicted future growth.

Bringing social care under a struggling NHS umbrella is not the answer. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of disabled people with social care packages do not receive healthcare interventions through support packages. No, healthcare and social care serve very different kinds of need.

Therefore, this Conference calls upon a newly elected Labour government to establish a National Independent Living Support Service (NILSS). A Service:

  • that gives new universal right to independent living
  • enshrined in law and delivered through a new national independent living service co-created between government and Disabled people,
  • funded through general taxation and managed by central government,
  • led by Disabled people and delivered locally in co-production with Disabled people.

Marrying social care to the NHS further medicalises disability in addition to denying the very things that disabled people are crying for…Independence, Choice and Control – things only deliverable by the establishment of a National Independent Living Support Service.

Word Count 197

 Posted by at 15:40
Feb 152019
 

On 1 Feb a letter from Sarah Newton, Minister against Disabled People, was published in the Guardian. In it she cites figures to show spending on disability benefits is increasing and makes other claims to suggest the government are successfully “ensuring that whatever a disabled person’s circumstances, they are able to access personalised, tailored support”.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/01/spending-on-benefits-for-disabled-people-is-increasing

The Guardian chose not to publish either the DPAC or Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance responses but you can read them here.

 

From DPAC:

“Minister for Disabled People, Sarah Newton’s, letter published on 1 February attempts to deflect from criticisms of the Government’s disgraceful record on disability by repeating amounts spent on social security payments. Out of context these figures tell us virtually nothing. That inflation exists and spending rises is hardly news. They are certainly no indication of how far spending meets need, of which evidence proves it to be well short in education as well as disability.

The Government failed to achieve George Osborne’s target of slashing the Disability Living Allowance by 20% in replacing it with Personal Independence Payment – a target based on a serious miscalculation of how many disabled people there are and how society would react to robbing us of essential support. That is to be welcomed but the hundreds of thousands who have been denied access to the new benefit since its roll out in 2013 is nevertheless shameful.

There is now overwhelming evidence of the adverse impacts of policies that target cuts on the most disadvantaged members of society. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s cumulative impact assessment of welfare and tax changes since 2010 finds that the more disabled a household is, the harder it has been hit: for households with at least one disabled adult and a disabled child, average annual cash losses are just over £6,500 – over 13% of average net income.

Since taking office as Minister for Disabled People, Newton’s tactic has been to paint accusations of harm caused by welfare reform as unreasonable. The problem she has is that literally millions of the population have now experienced the degradation and senselessness of the benefits system since 2010, whether as claimants, family or friends to someone suffering under the punitive system or professionals within swamped support services. This means a huge base of lived experience that can’t be fooled by misuse of statistics, lies and spin. The further the disconnect between her statements and what people know to be true, the more people are waking up to the realities of a government that puts profit before people and the interests of an elite few above those of the many.”

 

From ROFA:

“In her letter of 1 Feb – Minister against Disabled People Sarah Newton opines that the spending on disabled people is “more than either on the police, defence or schools”. If she is so concerned for spending in these areas one wonders why she has voted consistently to slash spending on them since first being elected to Parliament in 2010.

Any ‘Minister for Disabled People’ worth having should be questioning the impact that her own government’s cuts to schools (down by 8% per pupil since 2010) has had on access to education for disabled people. Instead she cynically implies that disabled people should be grateful for what we’ve got because according to some amateur accounting it is higher than a selection of other areas which have been hit with Tory cuts. Disabled People’s need for support is not responsible for the impact of the choices of Conservative governments to cut spending while cutting taxes for the wealthiest.

We are aware the minister includes housing benefit in her figure for spending on disabled people. This seems a little discriminatory as non-disabled people also claim housing benefit when they are unable to meet the costs of housing. Would the minister, for example, imply that school cuts are a result of non-disabled people’s unwillingness to be homeless? It would be unfair and disrespectful of the barriers we face to expect us to cease our demands for an end to a system that leaves many without the support needed to live in dignity and fearful of the next letter from the DWP, based on a figure including the amount the government transfers to the pockets of private landlords in housing benefit (one of the largest components of the spending figure she quotes). Any rise in the amount spent on housing benefit for disabled people is not a result of our need for support but of the government’s disastrous housing policy which has seen rents skyrocket.”

 Posted by at 22:33
Feb 152019
 

Disability rights organisations and activists lobbied MPs in Parliament on Wednesday 13 February 2019, at a ’First Do No Harm’ lobby, aimed at the DWP.

MPs John McDonnell, Marsha de Cordova, Margaret Greenwood, and disability rights activist John McArdle.

MPs John McDonnell, Marsha de Cordova, Margaret Greenwood, and disability rights activist John McArdle.

Artist and DPAC activist, Vince Laws, attended with his support worker, Lucifer. Vince took the opportunity to display 3 of the ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds, and took photos showing MPs John McDonnell, Marsha de Cordova, Margaret Greenwood, and a host of disability rights activists including, John McArdle, John Pring, Claire Glasman, Denise McKenna, Mark Harrison, Mick Hardy, Mary Ellen.

“It’s my first time in Parliament,” said Vince, “to be honest, I’m a bit overwhelmed by the vomit coloured carpets and fit-inducing wallpaper. I wanted to come to this important lobby and photobomb it with my shrouds so they get seen by millions and shame the Tories into agreeing to ‘First Do No Harm’ to humans – big ask, I know.”

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

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

The ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ shrouds were the backdrop to a live performance art piece called ‘A Very Queer Nazi Faust’ put on by Laws and 13 Norfolk based disability rights activists at Norwich Arts Centre in September 2018.

“The show I enjoyed most in 2018 and you can quote me on that!” Pasco Q Devlin Norwich Arts Centre Manager

There is now a ‘DWP Deaths Make Me Sick’ Facebook page. Images of all 22 shrouds made so far are on the page, with the text printed under them. The shrouds will be on display around the UK in 2019.

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

Meanwhile, Lucifer went to the public gallery to watch MPs debate live, and held up a shroud against the security glass right opposite the Tory benches and got thrown out. That shroud read:

Brian McArdle

Suffered a fatal heart attack

the day after his disability benefits

were stopped.

Dead People Don’t Claim.

Justice Not Charity.

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

Dead People Don't Claim banner

Dead People Don’t Claim banner

 Posted by at 16:29
Feb 152019
 

A basic principle of social security in Germany is cutting benefits if claimants miss an appointment, or fail to finish a training course, or refuse to sign an “integration agreement” (the equivalent of the DWP Claimant Commitment) in which they pledge to do all they can to find a job.

Sound familiar?

One organisation in Germany is really fighting the sanction regime and is doing an amazing thing. The Sanktionsfrei (“sanction-free”) organisation says sanctions do not work, and to prove this point, the organisation launched a study to find out what effect sanction-free support has on people. [i]

Starting in February 2019 and for the next three years, 250 randomly chosen recipients of Hartz IV financial assistance — the system of German long-term unemployment benefits or welfare support — will get any sanctions immediately reimbursed by the organisation, no questions asked.

The scheme is called HartzPlus. This study is expanding on a study undertaken by this organisation with 25 Hartz IV recipients who benefited of full sanctions compensation.  Although only five of the 25 people were actually sanctioned in that time, at a total cost to the organization of €2,400, there was a psychological benefit to all the participants.

“All of them said they have a better feeling, that they sleep better, that they’re more motivated to find a job, and that they’re less scared when they go for appointments at the job centre. In other words, sanctions have an effect before they’re imposed” explained the organization’s leader Helena Steinhaus.

The issue of sanctions in Germany has split the SPD and led to the building of a consensus in the party that sanctions should be scrapped.  According to Sven Lehmann, the German Greens’ labour spokesman: Hartz IV It (the sanction regime) has been in force for 15 years, and we know that poverty has grown, the low-wage sector has grown, and the middle classes are scared of falling into that system and then won’t be able to decide what they want to do. Removing sanctions, and thus removing fear, can only help the economy.

Hopefully some organisations, universities, think tanks etc. will be able to undertake the same kind of study in the UK where the sanction regime has been the harshest in the world, with deadly consequences. If not, this organisation https://sanktionsfrei.de/ @sanktionsfrei and their study will give us the evidence we need to show that sanctions are not only making no difference in terms of ‘motivating’ unemployed people (and in the UK this includes disabled people) into work, but that their absence is a motivating and positive factor to look for work, and to do so without fear of consequences.

Please retweet this to any organisation, university etc. which could potentially fund this study. It is our chance to bury forever the myth that sanctions incentivise people to look for and to find a job. Worse, as shown by the W&P committee[ii], the government is not prepared to look at the impact of sanctions on the financial situation and wellbeing of claimants.  This study has the potential to show that sanctions are ineffective in terms of ‘helping’ claimants into work, but also that the absence of sanctions has a better chance to attain this objective.

[i] https://www.dw.com/en/germanys-welfare-experiment-sanction-free-basic-security/a-46629933

[ii]  https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2017/benefit-sanctions-government-response-report-publication-17-19/

 

 Posted by at 11:23
Feb 142019
 

 

Tory conference police force admits sharing information on protesters with DWP

Disabled activists have demanded an inquiry after a police force that has patrolled four Conservative party conferences since 2010 admitted sharing information about protesters with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) has now become the second police force to admit sharing information about people taking part in protests with DWP, following a similar admission by Lancashire police.

But GMP has also admitted having a “sharing agreement” with DWP, even though the department explicitly stated two months ago that it had no such arrangements with any police force.

The admissions have followed claims reported by Disability News Service (DNS) that police forces have been targeting disabled protesters taking part in peaceful anti-fracking protests across England.

Lancashire police then admitted in December that it had shared both information and video footage of disabled anti-fracking protesters with DWP, in an apparent attempt to have their disability benefits removed.

Last month, DWP refused to say – in response to a DNS freedom of information request – which police forces had passed it information about claimants of disability benefits who have taken part in anti-fracking and anti-austerity protests.

But Greater Manchester Police has now told DNS that it passed DWP information – but not video footage – about protesters taking part in the anti-fracking protests at Barton Moss, Salford.

Those protests took place in 2013 and 2014, but the force also confirmed that it has shared information with DWP from protests not connected with fracking.

This raises concerns that it has passed information to DWP about disabled people who protested in Manchester about the government’s austerity-related social security reforms, particularly high-profile actions in 2015 and 2017.

In 2017, disabled activists from the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) criticised “heavy-handed” police tactics at a direct action protest that blocked tram lines outside the conference.

The Tory party is due to return to Manchester in September for this year’s annual party conference.

Andy Greene, a member of DPAC’s national steering group, said: “Using the cover of suspected benefit fraud as a shroud for the targeting of disabled activists is outrageous.

These are public services and should be deploying every resource they have to support disabled people to be active and engaged citizens.

Yet, what we see is the use of those resources deployed against disabled people as if we are enemies of the state.

Violence, the weaponisation of hunger, the ‘grave and systemic violations of disabled people’s human rights’ – this is what we are experiencing at the hands of the police, the DWP and other public services every day.”

He added: “There needs to be an inquiry into what’s gone on; and where wrong has been done, people have to be held to account. 

Who made the decisions within these services to share this information, when, how were these decisions justified? 

Disabled people need to be shown – not words – that they are safe to take part in protests, demonstrations, campaigning and activism without the threat of police violence or having their benefits and services taken away. 

The policing of disabled people by the very services designed to empower and enable us is a dangerous road to go down.”

Dennis Queen, who lives in Manchester and was arrested at the 2017 protest for public disorder but was later found not guilty, also backed calls for an inquiry.

She said she did not understand how the police could lawfully know who was claiming disability benefits.

She said: “In the same vein I don’t understand what business it is of the DWP if a person decides to attend a protest.

As far as I am aware there are no questions in benefit claims about attending protests.

There is no rule that claimants may not attend protests for us to be breaking. If there is then we ought to have a right to know about it.

I can only assume this is being done to cause a chilling effect and make disabled people afraid to protest. As such, it’s an informal ban on protesting against disabled people.”

Three other police forces that have been involved in policing anti-fracking protests over the last six years – Sussex, Surrey and North Yorkshire – have told DNS that they have not passed on information about protesters to DWP.

A Greater Manchester Police spokesperson said in a statement: “As part of a sharing agreement, information about protestors has been passed to DWP but only in the event where concerns have been raised.

During the course of our duties, whether this is at protests or not, if any concerns are identified, we are duty-bound to pass these onto the relevant partner agencies in any policing operation. 

No-one is deterred from taking part in protests or exercising their right to free speech.

As with any operation, a strategy is put in place in order for us to facilitate peaceful protests with as little disruption to the local area as possible.

The sharing of information is a useful tool for both us and our partners, helping us to build greater intelligence pictures, identify areas of concerns and work better with the communities we serve.”

A force spokesperson later added: “Information was passed to DWP in relation to the Barton Moss protests.”

She said that the raising of concerns that lead to information being passed to DWP are those “identified from intelligence gathering before all protests, reports made by the public and information passed on by police officers on the ground”.

The spokesperson also confirmed that information had been passed to DWP about both anti-fracking and non-fracking-related protests.

It is not yet clear which other protests have led to information being passed to DWP by Greater Manchester Police.

A DWP spokesperson said: “There is no formal arrangement in place between DWP and any police force for this or other similar scenarios.”

She had not said by noon today (Thursday) whether this meant her department was accusing Greater Manchester Police of lying about its “sharing agreement” with DWP.

She also refused to say if the minister for disabled people accepted that this exchange of information with GMP risked creating a more hostile environment for disabled people who receive benefits.

She also refused to say if Newton accepted that there would be grave concerns over the possible sharing of information with DWP by GMP from anti-austerity protests that were critical of DWP and its policies at Tory party conferences in Manchester.

14 February 2019

 

 

Ministers block release of ‘no deal Brexit’ social care recruitment plans

Ministers are refusing to release information that would show what extra plans – if any – the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has put in place to deal with an adult social care recruitment crisis in the event of a “no deal Brexit”.

With just 43 days until Britain faces the possibility of leaving the European Union without a deal in place, DHSC claimed that “premature” release of the information could put at risk “effective policy formulation and development regarding our exit from the EU”.

Instead of releasing its records, it has pointed to “high level” plans published just before Christmas, but they suggest that ministers have no plans in place to deal with an adult social care recruitment crisis.

Disabled people who use personal assistants (PAs) have warned repeatedly of the risk that any form of Brexit could mean their access to PAs from EU countries could dry up, with a no-deal Brexit making this even more likely.

Inclusion London said in December that the impact of Brexit on social care recruitment was “potentially disastrous”.

The refusal by DHSC to release the information came in response to a freedom of information request from Disability News Service (DNS).

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has already laid out some plans, including a national recruitment campaign to “raise the image and profile” of the adult social care sector, which was launched this week, but these will go ahead regardless of the Brexit outcome.

The adult social care green paper – which has been postponed yet again because of the government’s Brexit struggles – is also set to look at how to “recruit and retain a valued workforce”, says DHSC.

But DNS has been trying since November to discover from DHSC whether Hancock has put any specific plans in place to deal with a possible recruitment crisis in adult social care if Britain tumbles into a no deal Brexit.

Evidence Hancock gave to the Commons health and social care committee in November suggested he had no such plans, but his department subsequently refused to confirm that this was the case.

Following Hancock’s evidence, DNS asked through a freedom of information request what recorded information the department possessed on preparations it had made for dealing with recruitment into the social care sector in the event of a no deal Brexit.

DHSC says in its response that it does hold information “relevant to your request” but is relying on an exemption under section 35(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, which allows it to refuse to release information “relating to the formulation and development of government policy”.

Guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office makes it clear that a government department can only rely on this exemption “if the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure”.

DHSC says in its response that “premature” disclosure of the information – just a few weeks before Brexit – “could prejudice effective policy formulation and development regarding our exit from the EU”.

It adds: “We feel that the public interest would be better served by protecting effective policy making as we continue to negotiate our exit from the EU/prepare for all EU exit scenarios.”

But the disabled peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, disability spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said the DHSC refusal “suggests that there is no plan if there is a ‘no deal Brexit’”.

She said: “This just confirms our worst fears that, in the event of no deal Brexit, there will simply not be enough personal assistants to help disabled people live their lives properly if those from Europe stop coming, or those that are here go home.

This is a shocking state of affairs, which the government must face up to. It is not good enough just to hope for the best. They must take urgent action.”

The DHSC response does direct DNS to its “high-level plans”, which were published four days before Christmas and include letters to adult social care providers and commissioners about the government’s plans in the event of a no deal Brexit.

They also include the department’s “Brexit operational readiness guidance for the health and care system in England”, which again deals with action that should be taken in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

But the letters and guidance suggest that while DHSC has put into place a series of contingency plans for the NHS, some of which would also support the adult social care sector in the event of a no deal Brexit, it has done nothing to prepare for a possible social care recruitment crisis.

In a letter to adult social care providers, Sir Chris Wormald, DHSC’s permanent secretary, says: “To ensure you are as prepared as possible, we encourage all social care providers to have fully up to date and robust contingency plans for the possible implications for a ‘no deal’ EU Exit.”

But on workforce issues, his letter merely points providers to the government’s EU settlement scheme, which protects the rights of EU citizens already living in the UK, and which will apply whether there is a deal or not.

He also encourages providers to provide data on their workforce to a national scheme more regularly than they would usually do, as this “provides an important source for our national workforce risk assessments and we will be drawing data from it on a regular basis throughout the first six months of [2019]”.

In his letter to local authority chief executives and directors of adult social care, Sir Chris encourages them “to work closely with your adult social care providers… to assure yourself that any impact on providers can be managed locally”.

And he reminds them of “the importance of having robust contingency plans in place so that the duty to ensure continuity of services can be met”.

He adds: “I know that Local Authorities’ contingency plans will take into account the potential effects from a ‘no deal’ EU Exit scenario and you will be considering the impact on vulnerable people who use adult social care services.”

He says DHSC will “work closely” with the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services to support councils in this work and “ensure that activity is co-ordinated nationally across the health and care system”.

But he provides no suggestions for what steps DHSC has taken or will take to deal with the impact of a no deal Brexit on adult social care recruitment.

DHSC’s Brexit operational readiness guidance, also published on 21 December, focuses heavily on health and the NHS.

In the workforce section, it merely says: “The current expectation is that there will not be a significant degree of health and care staff leaving around exit day.

Organisations can escalate concerns through existing reporting mechanisms to ensure there is regional and national oversight.”

Despite this optimism, in an annex laying out suggested actions for NHS providers, the guidance warns them to “consider the implications of further staff shortages caused by EU Exit across the health and care system, such as in adult social care, and the impact that would have on your organisation”.

A DHSC spokesperson refused again to say what extra plans – if any – DHSC has put in place to deal with a possible adult social care recruitment crisis in the event of a no deal Brexit.

He suggested that DNS could ask for an internal review of the department’s freedom of information response. DNS has already asked for such a review.

14 February 2019

 

 

MPs hear of ways to save benefit claimants from harm… or even death

Disabled activists and shadow ministers at a parliamentary meeting have been told of ways they could help to reduce the appalling damage caused by the government’s hated “fitness for work” assessment and other social security cuts and reforms.

Academics, researchers, politicians and campaigners spoke at yesterday’s (Thursday’s) meeting, which was hosted and organised by Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell as part of a lobby of parliament.

The First Do No Harm lobby focused on the continuing refusal of ministers to ensure that sufficient medical evidence is gathered before decisions are made on claims for out-of-work disability benefits, particularly for people with mental distress.

Years of research has shown that deaths of claimants have been closely linked to the failure to ensure this further medical evidence is obtained.

A series of speakers described the continuing harm – including deaths – caused to disabled people by the work capability assessment (WCA) process and the sanctioning of claimants.

Labour shadow ministers said they would shortly be launching a consultation on designing a new social security system that has “respect at its core and treats people with dignity”.

This will include scrapping the WCA and the personal independence payment assessment and replacing them with a personalised assessment process and putting an end to the privatisation of the assessment process through companies like Atos, Maximus and Capita.

But two speakers also suggested that there was crucial short-term action that could be taken to save the lives of disabled people before any change of government.

John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, delivered a presentation on behalf of Edinburgh GP Dr Stephen Carty, the campaign’s medical adviser.

Dr Carty said he often includes a written warning at the bottom of the Med 3 form that GPs must fill out when someone is not well enough to work – known as the fit note – that the patient would be “at substantial risk of a deterioration in their physical and/or mental health” if found fit for work or work-related activity after a WCA.

He said he adds: “If a decision is made not to award this claimant benefits and there is a significant adverse outcome I will report the medical decision maker to the General Medical Council.”

He has to take this step because there is no other system in place to do so, he said.

He added: “I have lost count of the numbers of evictions [and] drug and alcohol relapses whilst in recovery and medical catastrophes related to adverse benefit decisions.”

Dr Carty said that both the Med 3 form and the claim form for out-of-work disability benefits should be amended to ask the claimant’s GP directly – in every case involving a sick or disabled claimant – if there would be a substantial risk of harm if the claimant was found fit for work or to be able to carry out some work-related activity.

McArdle told the meeting that this was a human rights issue that “ought in a civilised society to transcend all forms of party politics” and that MPs needed to work on a cross-party basis to introduce such a change.

He hopes this change could now come through pressure from an early day motion and a private member’s bill.

He told the meeting: “I don’t think anybody reasonably can deny the direct link between the WCA and people dying in destitution and from suicide.

We need to work together to get more than half of these MPs to say enough is enough. This must happen.”

Rick Burgess, of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People and Recovery in the Bin, detailed four ways in which campaigners could immediately save lives and reduce some of the harm being caused to disabled benefit claimants by taking action at local level.

The first, he said, was to talk to local Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and jobcentre area managers, and MPs, councillors and council officers, about sanctions that have been imposed and “see what wiggle room there might be” to reduce or remove them.

He said: “The product of most of those conversations has been not a big reduction but a reduction.” Every one of these conversations could result in a life saved, he said.

Secondly, campaigners can put pressure on local councils not to cut their welfare assistance schemes – if they still exist – and can raise awareness of such schemes.

A third measure, he said, was to provide and raise awareness about advice and advocacy, help people to record their benefit assessments, and accompany them to their assessments and appeals.

He said that recording benefit assessments, where possible, was the “single best thing to improve the quality of the assessment” because the assessors then “feel less free to defraud you”.

He said: “The tip of the spear of the DWP assault on us is the assessments.

If you get people helped at the assessment stage you may be saving them from a lot more trouble down the line.”

And, he said, as a result of council tax benefit cuts there now needed to be more joined-up work on “how to deal with the council tax you can’t pay”.

Burgess also said there was no assessment phase under the new universal credit benefit system, so people who were not able to work were now being sanctioned while waiting for their WCA, or their claims were being closed.

He said: “In Manchester, we have had examples of people in a psychotic crisis expected to attend work interviews.”

They fail to attend, are sanctioned, lose their flat and end up living on the street, he said.

He added: “It gets cold, they are dead on the street. 50 dead bodies this winter*. 50! That’s happening.”

Again, he said, jobcentres can be approached to use their discretion to waive universal credit sanctions as a harm reduction measure.

Gill Thompson told the meeting how her brother David Clapson had died in July 2013 from an acute lack of insulin, three weeks after having his jobseeker’s allowance sanctioned.

Because he had no money, he couldn’t afford to pay for electricity that would have kept the fridge where he kept his insulin working, in the height of summer, and he had also run out of food. He had just £3.44 left in his bank account when he died.

She told those at the meeting, some of whom were close to tears: “David should not have been sanctioned. They say that sanctions are a last resort, but he missed two meetings and he died.

What upsets me more is that people are still dying.”

Thompson said: “He was struggling and he turned to the state for help and he didn’t get any.

I just don’t understand how this can happen. Sanctions should not be allowed.

I do feel that if he hadn’t been sanctioned, he might still be here. I don’t know, but he might still be here.”

Denise McKenna, from the Mental Health Resistance Network and Disabled People Against Cuts, said there were a “whole host of reasons” why self-reporting your own medical evidence as part of the WCA process was difficult for people with mental health problems.

But she also pointed out that mental health care itself was “a shambles”, with the idea of work as a cure now “deeply embedded in the psychiatric system” and the trust between mental health service-users and the psychiatric profession “almost completely collapsed”.

She said society was now seeing a similar abuse of psychiatry to the gay conversion therapies practised in the 1960s and 70s.

McKenna said: “All of the treatments that are available are based on the idea that you are responsible for your mental distress and if you behave well enough and you try hard enough you can get better.

It’s just as damaging as what happened to those gay men in the 60s and 70s. It’s despicable.

We cannot have people who are both terrorised by the DWP and the psychiatric system.”

Catherine Hale, lead researcher and project manager of the Chronic Illness Inclusion Project (CIIP), and a member of the Spartacus Network, told the meeting that the hostile environment that had led to disabled people being viewed as “objects of hostility and distrust” was not accidental.

She highlighted how its origins lay in the writings of Gordon Waddell and Mansel Aylward, who advised insurance companies and governments on ways to cut pay-outs to sick and disabled people, as she said had been demonstrated by another disabled researcher, Mo Stewart.

Hale said: “According to them, the only way to get us out of our self-imposed ill-health is through compulsion and punishment, also known as sanctions.

The first thing we need to do to overturn the hostile environment is to call out and reject these theories.

We no longer allow scientists to say that homosexuality is a psychiatric condition or that some races are less intelligent than others, so let’s root out this so-called science that says that disabled people are liars and cheats.

Stop designing assessments that treat us as guilty until proven innocent.”

She added: “We should not be assessing work capability. We should be assessing structural disadvantage in the labour market.”

And she told the meeting: “Let’s move away from the mantra that says that paid work is the only valid route to being a good citizen in our society.”

Mark Harrison, from the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, said that disabled people needed to be “in the lead” in co-producing Labour’s new policies ahead of a Labour government.

But he said each policy needed to be assessed on whether it complied with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), in a process that should be led by disabled people.

He said: “If we don’t have that we are going to end up in problems because if we can’t scrutinise the plans of spending departments, as disabled people we are the only ones who know whether it is CRPD compliant, we are the only ones who know whether it’s based on the social model.”

Dr David Webster, an expert on benefit sanctions from the University of Glasgow, delivered a briefing on his work, which argues against sanctions and conditionality for sick and disabled benefit claimants.

He said that Waddell and Aylward’s work had been “quite clearly intended to soften up opinion so as to prepare the ground for the introduction of ESA**-type provision”.

He added: “The campaign since 2008 to drive sick and disabled people into work through conditionality [such as sanctions] has failed but it has caused a lot of collateral damage.

It never had any proper evidence base.”

McDonnell called for a rolling programme of lobbying MPs in their own constituencies about the harm being caused to disabled people to ensure that “we are not allowing MPs not to become aware of what is happening within their area”.

He said some MPs only began to appreciate the impact of the government’s reforms once they were confronted with the reality of what was happening in their own constituency and perhaps being introduced to someone who had been sanctioned.

He said the impact of universal credit on all MPs’ constituencies was “brutal”, while the ESA process was “pushing people to the edge”.

He said: “The sanctions regime is still there and people being hardest hit are disabled people and particularly those with mental health issues.”

But McDonnell said he thought people were finally waking up to “the scale of the suffering that’s gone on”, and he said that the work of disabled researchers and campaigners like Hale, Stewart and McArdle was “academically and intellectually unchallengeable now”.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, told the event: “Nine years of austerity has led to the hostile environment that has been created for [disabled people].”

She said the current assessment regime was “cruel” and “not fit for purpose”, and she added: “People should view the social security system in the same vein as they view the NHS because the welfare state was introduced as a safety net.”

Margaret Greenwood, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said there needed to be a “sea change in the way in which disabled people are treated and we want a social security system that has respect at its core and treats people with dignity.”

*Office for National Statistics figures show at least 50 homeless people died in Greater Manchester in 2017

**The out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance

14 February 2019

 

 

User-led sector ‘faces threat of extinction’

User-led organisations across the country are continuing to close, with the sector even facing a “real threat of extinction”, leading networks have warned this week.

Those user-led organisations that have found a way to survive are increasingly being side-lined from government consultations and government-funded projects, they said.

The National Survivor User Network (NSUN) estimates that about 50 more user-led organisations that were previously NSUN members have been forced to close in the last year.

This follows a net loss of more than 150 member groups in the previous year.

NSUN, which represents groups and people in England with experience of mental distress, has now warned its members: “This is having a deep impact on collectives of oppressed and marginalised people who have been campaigning to have a voice, lobbying for legislative changes and self-organising to make things better.”

It is so concerned about the continuing attack on the value of user-led groups that it is to focus its campaigning this year on this issue.

Shaping Our Lives, a national network of disabled people and service-users, was even more stark in its warning about the sector’s future.

Its latest estimates are that it has lost about a sixth of its user-led member organisations in the last couple of years, and it believes that this rate of closure is accelerating.

Professor Peter Beresford, SOL’s co-chair, said successive governments had argued for a wider range of providers of public services, but in practice this had led to a “big shift to privatisation and the dominance of big metropolitan-based charities, which are run like big businesses”. 

He said: “The great, much-valued innovation of the age has been small, local, accountable user-led organisations (ULOs) and disabled people’s user-led organisations (DPULOs), run by the groups – disabled people, mental health service-users, people with learning difficulties – they are meant to serve.”

But he said the “rising tension in service provision in the context of austerity cuts” had led to the marginalisation of these ULOs, which were now “facing serious crisis” and “a real threat of extinction”.

He called for a “radical review of both government and funding policy” in order to avert this “tragedy”.

Sarah Yiannoullou, NSUN’s managing director, said that user-led groups and networks needed to work more closely together, share their common concerns and experiences and look at collective solutions to ensure their survival.

She said the network’s members and other user-led organisations and networks had faced similar problems over the last five years.

She said: “We are finding there are very similar and common issues, with groups closing, whether it is due to lack of resources or burn-out of the leaders of our groups, there is less and less opportunity for that independent, collective and direct voice.

So what we were campaigning about 20 years ago and feeling like we were making some progress on, now it feels as though – particularly over the last couple of years – that we are regressing.”

NSUN is now seeking funding for joint research to examine how many user-led organisations are being lost, and how well understood user-led groups are and why they are so valuable.

This week, NSUN launched a survey* that it hopes will provide evidence from user-led organisations of the challenges they are facing, the work they do, the impact they have, and the policy changes they believe are needed to support user-led groups.

NSUN also hopes the research will look at the growing use of language that “blurs the lines” between user-led and non-user-led organisations.

Yiannoullou said: “The space that user-led groups have worked hard to carve out for themselves around advocacy, peer support, involvement, participation and recovery, has become an area of income generation for other [non-user-led] organisations.”

As well as large charities, private sector and statutory bodies like NHS trusts are now involved in this work, further crowding out user-led groups and often changing the kind of work taking place in areas like peer support “beyond recognition”, she said.

Government departments, for example, will use phrases like “user groups” to describe the voluntary sector groups and organisations they have been consulting with, and don’t necessarily differentiate between user-led and non-user-led organisations, said Yiannoullou.

Such groups may have access to service-users who can take part in consultations on disability-related issues, but they are usually not run and controlled by service-users, which means the government is repeatedly breaching the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and “general comment number seven”, which was agreed last autumn by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.

The UNCRPD makes it clear that, when developing laws and policies relating to disabled people, governments “must closely consult with and actively involve persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, through their representative organizations”.

It defines “representative organizations” as those that are “led, directed and governed by persons with disabilities”.

Yiannoullou said: “We want to reassert and raise awareness of what the distinction is between user-led groups and user groups.

We also want to get a sense of whether it’s just us (user-led groups) that think this is important.”

NSUN fears that the importance of user-led groups is being lost in the clamour for contracts and increasing competitive tendering.

Yiannoullou said: “It’s a real concern that user-led groups are reporting that their contributions are not being recognised and are having less and less impact.

The smaller groups, which tend to be the user-led groups, find it really hard to compete. There’s no level playing-field.

We need to have some high-level conversations about the value of user-led groups, what makes them different and what needs to happen to help them survive the current climate.”

Becki Meakin, SOL’s general manager, said: “The growing pressure on voluntary and community sector organisations to secure funding is evolving into a fight for survival.

Tactics previously only used by the most aggressive profit-making companies are now becoming common place in the voluntary sector.

Funders and commissioners need to realise that different types of voluntary and community sector organisations have different skills and strengths.

One funding model and approach does not work for everyone.”

She added: “Recent government policy is now looking to the community to meet the gaps in provision.

With the declining number of local user-led groups, where is the knowledge and capacity going to come from?

It is not just the user-led movement that is stretched to its limits, but it is also the people with lived experience who have committed their time and energy, often for little reward, to providing peer support and advocacy.

Austerity policies and service cuts have also devastatingly impacted the capacity of individuals to fight for others.”

*User-led organisations that would like to provide their own experiences and concerns can contact NSUN by email at info@nsun.org.uk or fill in the online survey

14 February 2019

 

 

Launch of Neurodivergent Labour ‘could be milestone in fight for rights and equality’

The launch of a new user-led political organisation is set to be a “landmark event” for neurodivergent people in the Labour party.

After three years of lobbying, discussions and consultation, disabled party members launched Neurodivergent Labour in central London on Saturday.

Janine Booth, co-chair of the TUC disabled workers’ committee, who played a key role in its formation, told the launch event it would be “a milestone in the fight for acceptance, rights and equality for autistic, dyslexic, dyspraxic and otherwise neurodivergent people through the Labour party”.

More than 50 neurodivergent party members backed the new organisation’s aim to campaign against discrimination, exclusion, oppression and injustice and for equality for neurodivergent people”.

The new organisation, which will hold its founding annual general meeting later this year, will also work to make the Labour party itself more accessible to its neurodivergent members.

Booth said: “We all know that there are some parts of how the party operates that are not easy for us to navigate, whether it is big long word documents, whether it is unpleasant atmospheres at meetings, whether it is things not being explained properly, whether it is a top-down bureaucratic approach that is hard for us to get involved in.

So we want to fight to make our party more accessible.”

Those present at the launch also endorsed a draft Labour party autism/neurodiversity manifesto, which Booth and others have been developing for nearly three years.

The manifesto is based on the social model of disability, and an understanding that neurodiversity should be accepted and not suppressed or cured, and comes from an anti-austerity perspective that also sets out to challenge “the deep social routes of discrimination against neurodivergent people”.

It addresses issues around the lack of diagnostic services, the impact of Tory social security cuts and reforms, including neurodivergent people driven to suicide by benefit sanctions, and the crises in social care and housing.

It also highlights a level of hate crime that has “increased with the demonisation of people who are disabled and/or different in pursuit of the Tories’ austerity agenda”.

It calls for legislation to outlaw “quack” cures, such as the “false and dangerous” sale of products that “exploit the fears of neurodivergent people and their families”.

Campaigner Emma Dalmayne told the launch event that she welcomed the inclusion of this measure in the draft manifesto.

She said: “I’ve been campaigning against autistic mistreatment with abusive quack cures for the last five years here in the UK.

I have literally felt alone for so long. I’ve had so many threats, I’ve had rape threats, death threats, and threats against my family, so I just wanted to say thank you.”

The manifesto also calls for action to make the built environment “less distressing and more accessible”, and for a campaign to raise public awareness of neurodiversity.

And it says there should be a review of the accessibility of the justice system, and action taken to ensure that “non-harmful unusual behaviours are not criminalised, and that people receive support rather than punishment if an intolerable environment causes disruptive behaviour”.

Other policies include neurodiversity training for all teachers and teaching assistants as part of their “core training”; support for neurodivergent students; smaller class sizes; and neurodiversity to be included in the school curriculum.

It also calls for the work capability assessment to be scrapped; for neurodiversity training for all public service staff*; and for a new legal requirement on employers to make workplaces and working conditions “more equal and accessible and less hostile”.

Booth said there had been input into the draft manifesto from thousands of people from within the party, trade unions and the neurodiversity movement, under the guidance of a steering group composed entirely of neurodivergent party members.

She said the draft manifesto had “a set of radical, progressive policies that would significantly improve the lives of neurodivergent people”, and when it was formally adopted by the Labour party “we need to go and tell neurodivergent people that, and say, this is what you will get if you elect a Labour government”.

She said: “We want this organisation to be not just a talking shop, not just to have conferences each year, but to actually go out on the streets and campaign.”

The idea of a Labour neurodiversity and autism manifesto was first suggested by Booth to John McDonnell nearly three years ago, and the shadow chancellor was at the launch event.

McDonnell said it had previously been “pretty bleak” for neurodivergent people within the party who needed support, advice or wanted to push for legislative change.

He said it had been crucial that the new organisation was led by neurodivergent people.

And he promised again that disabled people would be involved in implementing policy when Labour won power.

He said: “As I keep repeating, this is not about electing a group of MPs who will go off and do it for us. That will never work, it never has and never will.

This is about when we go into government, we all go into government, so we draft our manifesto, we secure commitments from the bulk of the Labour party through the normal policy-making process and then when we go into government, we all work on the detail of the implementation itself.”

McDonnell said his shadow Treasury team would be starting a new exercise next month in which they will recost key policies, in preparation for a possible general election.

He said he wanted the party to insert the issues raised in the draft autism/neurodiversity manifesto into that discussion.

He said: “If we could do that it would be absolutely ground-breaking. We would be the first party to look at this in this overall comprehensive way, and we would be the first government to do it as well, so this is revolutionary, to be honest.

I think if we can get the debate going early… we can go into government with the implementation plans there, the draft legislation in place, and the funding resources available too.

You can see how we could transform people’s lives.”

Helen Whitehead, who stood unsuccessfully to be Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC) in South Thanet last year, said she believed the idea of setting up Neurodivergent Labour was already working.

She said: “I stood for PPC in South Thanet last year and I did so as an autistic woman, because I was aware that nationally we were becoming more aware of what our abilities are, that we are welcomed by the party, that we are more than capable.

I did this because I was aware of everything that was happening, so I would just like to thank everybody and point out that you are already doing what we are setting out to put forward today and I think it is absolutely incredible.”

*The Department of Health and Social Care announced a consultation this week on plans for health and social care staff who regularly have contact with patients or service-users to be legally required to undergo training on learning difficulties and autism

14 February 2019

 

 

MP speaks of pride at being dyspraxic at launch of Neurodivergent Labour

A disabled MP has spoken of her pride at being able to speak openly about being dyspraxic, after having to hide her diagnosis from employers for years before she entered parliament.

Emma Lewell-Buck was previously a social worker but was “acutely aware that if there were any job cuts that would come around, it would be used against me and I would be the first one in the dole queue”.

She said she used to take work home with her at weekends, work late into the evening and start early in the morning because, like many other disabled people, she felt she had to “go the extra mile” and “work that little bit harder to prove yourself or keep up”.

She was speaking at the launch event of Neurodivergent Labour (see separate story), a political campaign group that will fight for the rights of people with neurological differences such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia, both within the party and in wider society.

Lewell-Buck, the shadow minister for children and families – who later confirmed to Disability News Service that she is happy to be described as a disabled MP – said that being dyspraxic affected her every day in her work.

She said: “Every single thing I do I need to prep for meticulously, down to the tiniest detail.

But I’m one of the lucky ones because I am in a job where I can openly speak about my disability and I can use my profile to raise awareness.”

The MP for South Shields said she was only diagnosed at the age of 27, after being assessed by an educational psychologist on the advice of a lecturer while she was studying for a masters degree.

She said: “My whole life clicked into place. I suddenly realised why, when I was growing up, I always felt different to other kids and always used to isolate myself.

I realised why I put my shoes on the wrong feet, why I couldn’t tie my laces properly, button my coat up, why I was always spilling my drinks and why the whole family always referred to me as ‘our clumsy Emma’.

I was always so frustrated that things that used to come so easily to other kids were so, so hard for me.”

This caused “tremendous low self-esteem and self-confidence” as a child, she said.

But she said she now saw her dyspraxia as an advantage.

She said: “I just see it as I’m a little bit different to some of those around me. I’ve embraced it.

It doesn’t define me, it’s just part of me. I’ve been forced to adapt and face those challenges, and come up with solutions, and I certainly don’t feel disadvantaged.”

She thanked those neurodivergent party members who had developed the idea of the new organisation, as well as shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who has supported the idea over the last three years and spoke at Saturday’s launch event.

She said: “It is thanks to you that people like me have the confidence to talk about and embrace who we are and thanks to all of you that the fabulously neurodivergent people have been given this platform to help us on the way to that much-needed societal and cultural shift.”

Lewell-Buck said that she, McDonnell and other Labour colleagues were “determined to change the culture of our society and how neurodivergent people and people with disabilities are treated.

Our approach is a clear move away from the dehumanising and debilitating hostile environment we have seen under the Tories to one where people will be treated with dignity and respect.”

She said it was “the neurodivergent people in this world who have always been the big thinkers, and creators and innovators.

We are the ones who always have the ability to think outside the box and come up with solutions to some of the world’s greatest problems.”

Among the decisions agreed by the launch event was to endorse a draft Labour autism and neurodiversity manifesto that neurodivergent party members have spent three years developing.

Included in the manifesto are calls for neurodiversity training for all teachers and teaching assistants as part of their “core training”, support for neurodivergent students, smaller class sizes, and neurodiversity to be included in the school curriculum.

Lewell-Buck, who is leading on Labour’s special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) reforms, said the proposals in the draft manifesto were “an exact fit to those that I have been arguing for behind the scenes in my team meetings”, because she was committed to making SEND “an embedded and intrinsic part of our overall education system”.

She said that a good education “can make the difference between where you begin in life and where you end up.

I am living proof of that: a dyspraxic, dyslexic, shy working-class girl, growing up on the estate where I did, and never destined to be a member of parliament.

So good education can absolutely make the impossible happen. I am proud to be a Labour MP and I am very proud to be dyspraxic.”

She added: “You have all stopped me feeling different and I have found my home and for that alone you are always going to have my help and support, and I look forward to working with you all.”

14 February 2019

 

 

Disability Confident’ Arts Council England’s job stats shame

The Arts Council has admitted that only two per cent of its directors – and just three per cent of its managers – are disabled people, despite having achieved “Disability Confident Employer” status under the government’s discredited disability employment scheme.

Arts Council England (ACE) has now become the latest employer to achieve the top two levels of the Disability Confident scheme – including government departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions – despite their own troubling records on disability employment.

The figures came in ACE’s fourth annual diversity report, which showed figures for 2017-18.

ACE, the government’s national development agency for art and culture, produced a stream of figures in its report which revealed almost no progress in increasing the representation of disabled people among staff, managers and directors in larger organisations funded by ACE.

But its own results were just as bad, and often worse, with disabled people making up just six per cent of its overall workforce in 2017-18, the same as the previous year.

And just two per cent of its directors (down from three per cent in 2016-17) and three per cent of its managers (the same as 2016-17) were disabled people.

Abid Hussain, ACE’s director of diversity, admitted that ACE had “as much if not more work to do than the sector”.

He said: “It’s really, really key for the Arts Council to be seen as an employer that disabled people want to work for.

We need to be removing any barriers that people are facing.

If we can have disabled people informing our policy-making, informing the way our funding is distributed, but also having a very honest conversation about the things we can do better, then I think we’ll see a shift in our culture and our ability to see the progress we want to see.”

There were also troubling results from its survey of major ACE-funded museums, with the proportion of disabled directors falling from four per cent to just two per cent.

And two major arts organisations – Bristol Old Vic and The University of Warwick – both admitted that they still do not employ a single disabled person, three years on from ACE figures that showed that disabled people made up zero per cent of their workforces.

Other arts organisations – all of which have more than 50 permanent staff – who admitted that disabled people made up zero per cent of their employees included The Customs House, in South Shields, Hull City Council, and Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham.

Across the whole of ACE’s national portfolio of funded organisations, the percentage of disabled workers rose from four to five per cent and remained at four per cent for its major funded museums.

Sir Nicholas Serota, ACE’s chair, said: “Progress has been too slow, there’s no question about it.”

ACE said its report showed that fewer people were now responding to questions about their own status with “prefer not to say”, but many organisations were still returning a high level of “unknown” responses.

This could mean that there were more disabled people working in organisations than the report suggested.

It plans to put more pressure on organisations which consistently report high levels of “unknown” data, “reminding them of their obligations under their funding agreements”.

14 February 2019

 

 

Delight’ over breakthrough on Welsh independent living scheme closure

Disabled campaigners have welcomed measures that aim to address concerns over the imminent closure of the Welsh government’s independent living grant scheme.

Julie Morgan, the deputy minister for health and social services, has written to council leaders to ask for an immediate “pause” in the closure programme and its replacement with a system of council-funded support.

There will now be new independent assessments for any former recipients of the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) scheme who are unhappy with the new support packages allocated by their local authority.

The new measures came just two weeks after Nathan Lee Davies, who has led the campaign to save the WILG scheme, sent an 80-page dossier of evidence about the closure to Welsh Labour’s new leader and first minister, Mark Drakeford.

Davies told Drakeford in an open letter accompanying the dossier that closing WILG would leave disabled people with high support needs, like him, “at the mercy of cash-strapped Local Authorities who seem intent on cutting vital support packages across the board with no guarantee that further cuts will not follow”.

He sent his letter with just two months to go until the interim WILG scheme was due to close.

Now Morgan has announced a pause in the transition to the new system.

WILG was set up – with UK government funding – as an interim scheme following the UK government’s decision to close the Independent Living Fund in June 2015.

The Welsh government is now closing WILG for good and transferring the funding to local councils, and by April the 22 local authorities were due to be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients in Wales.

But in a written statement to assembly members, Morgan said she had considered the evidence and decided there needed to be a “change in direction” because her government’s own review had shown a significant variation in how support packages were being cut by different councils.

Morgan said that all WILG recipients who were unhappy with their new care and support package and would like a second opinion would now be offered an independent assessment.

These assessments will be funded by the Welsh government, which will also pay for any resulting additional hours of support.

The government said that the new assessments would “acknowledge the historical entitlement of former ILF recipients”, while Morgan told assembly members in a written statement that there would be “no financial barrier [so] no-one need have less favourable care and support than they had under ILF”.

Morgan, who praised Davies and his fellow campaigners, said: “It is paramount that people’s ability to live independently is not compromised by changes to the care and support provided for people previously in receipt of the Welsh Independent Living Grant.

These changes will ensure that is the case and deliver a consistent level of care and support across Wales.

While the majority of former ILF recipients are receiving the same or more care as they were previously, a significant number have experienced a reduction in hours of support.

There is also considerable variation in the reductions in support.

I have therefore written to local government leaders to request a pause of the transition with immediate effect in order to bring in the revised arrangements.

This is a significant change of approach that ensures that the needs of former WILG recipients will be fully met, and that resources are no barrier to a full package of care and support.”

Davies, who was celebrating his birthday on the day of the announcement, said it was “the perfect 42nd birthday gift”.

He said later in a statement: “I would like to place on record my delight at the breakthrough we have made.”

He added: “It is a pleasure to be working with our new first minister Mark Drakeford and his revamped cabinet that differs substantially from the previous regime.

Welsh Labour have now successfully re-branded themselves and are moving forward with a clear vision of creating a society based on 21st century socialist ideas.

There is still some work to be done with Welsh Labour on the new arrangements to support disabled people to live independently.

I am confident that this work will be carried out constructively and add to the ‘clear red water’ that Welsh Labour are once again setting between themselves and Westminster.

The fact that the party that I am proud to be a member of, has listened and acted appropriately is really encouraging and gives me hope for the future.”

Disability Wales praised Davies’s campaigning work and the Welsh government for “listening and responding to the evidence” and added: “This is really welcome news for Welsh disabled people who had lost vital support after the ILF closed.”

14 February 2019

 

 

Parents who home educate disabled children ‘scapegoated’ by commissioner

Families forced into home educating their disabled children because of the lack of support from mainstream schools are among parents who are being “scapegoated” by the children’s commissioner, according to a disabled mum and campaigner.

Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner for England, published a report last week that calls for action to address the lack of knowledge about the standard of education and safety of the tens of thousands of children currently being home educated.

Research by Channel 4’s Dispatches, for a documentary presented by Longfield last week, found that 22 per cent of children withdrawn from school to be home educated in 2017-18 had special educational needs (SEN).

The number of children known by local authorities to be home educated has doubled since 2013-14.

Longfield said there were concerns about whether some of these children were safe and if they were receiving a good quality education.

She wants to see a compulsory register of home educated children, and greater oversight of those arrangements.

But disabled activist Dennis Queen, who home educates her 14-year-old twins Stan and Rosa, who are both disabled, says home educators are being blamed rather than the schools that caused the problems in the first place.

And she is angry that the commissioner is suggesting giving greater powers to the local authorities that are already responsible for failing children who have been forced into home education.

She says the people they need to worry about are parents who have removed their children from school but are not home educating them.

Longfield said: “We need to know who these children are, where they are, whether they are safe and if they are getting the education they need to succeed in life.

There is a clear case for the government to introduce a compulsory register for all home educated children, without delay.”

But Queen said such a register and greater oversight would be “a fundamental change to the law around children and education”, which currently says that it is the legal duty of parents – and not the state – to provide an education for their home educated children.  

She and other campaigners believe such measures would breach the human rights of home educating families, who have rights to privacy and a family life under the Human Rights Act.

Local councils have an obligation to identify children they believe are not receiving a suitable education, but they have no legal duty to monitor those being home educated and do not have the powers to insist on visiting a home unless they have a welfare concern.

Councils are responsible for safeguarding in their area and have the same safeguarding powers in relation to children educated at home as to those educated at school.

But Queen says that most families who home educate – some of whom choose to do so without even trying the school system – are already checked by local authorities, and she and others want those checks to remain voluntary.

She said: “We will comply with whatever they ask us to do, but it is not going to help Anne Longfield find the children who are not getting an education.

I think there is enough oversight already. In general, families comply when they are asked and if they don’t comply and there are concerns, they can be made to comply.

I think any further measures waste energy and money which could be used instead to find children who are not getting any education.”

She added: “Every minute we waste preparing for assessment is another minute not educating our children.

Many kinds of home ed exist and some are vastly different to schooling. Each child has a fully individualised education. They just can’t be measured by systems set up to measure schools.”

Introducing a new assessment system would “ruin it completely”, she added.

She said: “Home ed works partly because of the immense freedom we have to educate in ways which work for our children.”

She says her twins are now studying a wider range of subjects, and they have more friends, than they did when they were at school.

Queen says research shows that home-educated children have better outcomes on average than those who attend school – probably because those children benefit from more individual attention – with those improvements even greater for children from more deprived backgrounds.

Her experiences show how schools are forcing many parents of disabled children into removing them from school and home educating them instead, she said.

She had to remove her autistic son Stan from his mainstream school when the local authority halved his support package, and the school was about to insist that he move to a special school.

If she had not done so, she says, he would have had to attend a special school far from home, travelling an hour each way every day.

Rosa was de-registered about 18 months later, after the school kept punishing her for not sitting still in her chair, even though she was in pain because of her impairment.

Longfield said that many home-educated children have been “off-rolled” by schools, a process where parents are pressured to remove their child because of poor academic results, or because they have support needs the school is unwilling or unable to meet.

She wants to see stronger measures to tackle off-rolling.

Research by the Children’s Commissioner’s Office shows that the number of children moving into home education from academy schools in one London borough increased by 238 per cent between 2016-17 and 2017-18, compared with a rise of 21 per cent in council-run schools in the borough.

Inclusive education campaigners have been warning for years that the spread of academy schools was undermining the inclusion of disabled children in mainstream schools.

Queen agrees that measures should be taken to address off-rolling, and that the spread of academies has worsened the problem.

The school previously attended by Rosa and Stan later became an academy, and has off-rolled other disabled children, says Queen, who has now joined other parents in sharing her experiences with the home education website Suitable Education.

She said: “We can’t let them turn home education into a dumping ground for children with SEN. It has to be a choice.”

Tara Flood, director of The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE), said her organisation had been concerned for years about the impact of academies on inclusive education, and about the practice of off-rolling, in what was a “fundamentally broken” school system.

She said: “We completely understand why parents make what can sometimes be a very difficult decision to pull their young person out of school.”

But she said that as more and more children are withdrawn from the mainstream school system, that lets the school system “off the hook”.

She said: “If you have got a pupil population that is less and less diverse in terms of their learning and access requirements, the pressure becomes less and less to offer creative solutions to your existing pupil population.”

That applied to the government and local authorities as well as education providers, she said, and led to an education system that was “less and less willing to be inclusive”.

Flood said the home educating community was responding to “an increasingly hostile school system” but it was up to the government, the education watchdog Ofsted and education providers “to end that hostility”.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “There are thousands of parents across the country who are doing an excellent job of educating their children at home.

We know, however, that in a very small minority of cases children are not receiving the standard of education they should be or, very rarely, are being put at risk.

That’s why we recently ran a call for evidence on home education asking for views on issues such as registration, monitoring provision and support for home educators.

We have also consulted on revised guidance that will help local authorities and parents better understand safeguarding laws applicable to home education.

We are considering the responses and will respond to both the call for evidence and consultation in due course.”

14 February 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 Posted by at 15:10